When you’re buying a house, car, or bed, it’s probably very rare that you go into the agency, dealership, or store, and walk out with the first thing you see. These things cost money, and are with you for a good amount of time, so taking your time to peruse the selection can only be a good idea.
To buy hearing aids is a big decision, as it’s an expensive semi-permanent fixture of your life, so deserves a respectable amount of time when picking one out. But what a person wants in a hearing aid might not be as ubiquitous as what they want in a home or car.
That’s why we’re here – to help you understand what to look for in a hearing aid. After all, delve far enough into the stats and data sheets, and you’ll find some confusing figures and words that might sound impressive – if anyone knew what they meant (is an open equivalent input noise of 24 better than a closed equivalent input noise of 25?)
In this article we’ll go over the best practices when looking to buy hearing aids, but as much as we’d like to, we don’t personally know you or your needs. The best way to find a hearing aid that suits you is to have a test and a conversation with a qualified hearing professional. For an easy way to do this, fill out our online form to arrange a free consultation with a hearing specialist near you.
In this article we’ll go over the five steps you should take when looking for a hearing aid.
If you’re looking to buy hearing aids, you may have come across the three main hearing healthcare professionals who are qualified to evaluate your hearing – an Audiologist, a Hearing Instrument Specialist (HIS) and an Otolaryngologist (ENT).
These three roles play different parts in diagnosing hearing conditions and prescribing medical fixes for them. Let’s break them down and look at the differences between them:
Audiologist: Definition – a healthcare professional who specializes in diagnosing, treating, and managing disorders of the auditory (hearing) and vestibular (balance) portions of the ear.
Despite the ear seeming like a relatively small part of the human body, a lot goes into the responsibilities of an audiologist. Literally and figuratively looking into the ear, diagnosing issues, dispensing hearing aids, counselling patients and families, and implementing hearing protection programs.
With all these responsibilities, you can see how these professionals would require a good amount of study to become qualified. A doctor of audiology (known as an Au.D.) requires a 2-3 year doctorate degree (following a bachelor's degree) plus a year-long clinical internship. They then need to pass a standardized national exam.
Some audiologists go on to earn Ph.D.s, but these individuals usually stay in the field of study instead of taking on patients. Non-Ph.D. audiologists can be found in hospitals or clinics.
Hearing Instrument Specialist (HIS): Definition – A hearing instrument specialist, also known as a hearing aid dispenser or hearing aid specialist, is trained to test hearing and dispense hearing aid technology.
As the name would imply, these specialists are a bit more focused on the hearing technology itself, and only perform basic examinations to determine if the patient has a need for hearing technology.
While they can have their own businesses, they will often work alongside audiologists in the same office or clinic, focusing on the dispensing, programming, and repair of hearing aids.
The requirements to become an HIS are a bit less strenuous than those needed to be an audiologist. It differs from state to state, but the general requirements are a high school diploma, a six – month training program, and a licensing exam.
Otolaryngologist (ENT): Definition – also known as an Ear, Nose, and Throat specialist (ENT) are medical specialists who diagnose and treat conditions of the ear, nose, and throat.
Their responsibilities are solely medical, and they are often in charge of prescriptions, diagnoses, and medication. As such, ENTs hold an M.D. (Doctor of Medicine) or a D.O. (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine).
To understand what kind of tests these specialists would perform, have a look at our article, “What to Expect from a Hearing Test.”
How to choose where to go for your hearing needs
There are a lot of hearing clinics and services out there, and rather than looking through all of them, you might just give up and go to the first one you see. Instead of that, we’re here to give you four solid tips on how to decide where to go.
- An obvious tip, and one you might have already taken, is to ask any friends or family who have hearing aids of their own where they went and what their experience was like.
- Ask your primary care physician or family doctor.
- Get a recommendation from a hearing aid manufacturer. If you’re thinking of one brand in particular, every brand has easily accessible contact information online, through which you can ask any questions about the brand. Keep in mind, though, their answers would obviously be biased toward their own brand.
- Use our free online form. If you’re interested, you can use our form to arrange a quick and free consultation with a hearing specialist near you. After a hearing test, the hearing specialist will be able to assess if you need a hearing aid, and which kind would be the best for you.
If you don’t use our form to get a free hearing test, an appointment with an audiologist or otolaryngologist could cost you. It might just go to your insurance provider, but depending on your policy, you may be responsible for a co-payment.
Once you take your hearing test, the administrator will go through your results and discuss your options. If your hearing is okay, then you’re free to go home and listen to as much blaring music as you want (that was a joke, please don’t do that.)
If you have sustained hearing loss, it will be classified based on its severity:
- Mild hearing loss
- Moderate hearing loss
- Moderately-severe hearing loss
- Severe hearing loss
- Profound hearing loss
Another important metric when looking at hearing loss is your word discrimination score. This score, as you might be able to tell from the name, indicates how well you can distinguish individual words at a comfortable volume.
Even people with mild hearing loss are potential candidates for hearing aids. That’s why, for further specificity, you might be given a “Communication Assessment” or “Aural Rehab Assessment” – questionnaires on your hearing or lifestyle.
When the tests and questionnaires are coupled, these measurements allow your hearing healthcare professional to gauge how much you would benefit from a hearing aid.
Committing to hearing aids is a decision that is entirely your own. To make sure you have all the information you need to make this decision, and ultimately buy hearing aids, your specialist will inform you of the possible consequences or negative effects of untreated hearing loss.
In some offices, you might be offered a hearing aid demonstration. You’ll be allowed to handle a hearing aid, and even wear one for a short test drive. If this is the case, it’s a good idea to bring along a family member for a familiar voice, or even a song you know well.
Since getting hearing aids is such a significant decision, remember that you shouldn’t feel pressured to commit. Going home to do your own research is a completely valid step. Your hearing specialist will also be happy to answer any questions you have during the test.
Just like there is no “best car in the world,” there is no ultimate hearing aid. In the same way that cars should be picked based on the buyer’s needs, the selection of a hearing aid should hinge on what specifics you need to benefit your lifestyle and hearing loss.
“One of the most often asked questions is, ‘What is the best hearing aid?’ The question you should really be asking is, ‘What is the best hearing aid for ME?’” – Lindsey Banks Au.D.
Your two biggest choices when it comes to hearing aids are the style (the physical appearance of the device) and the digital technology within (the various features the devices use to improve the user’s hearing.)
If you ever saw your parents or grandparents wearing hearing aids, you might remember these bulky chunks of plastic that couldn’t be more obvious if they were covered in Christmas lights. Nowadays, you might not be noticing them as much.
Don’t worry, you aren’t getting less observant – hearing aids are just getting far more discreet. Hearing aids nowadays can come in any size or color you could want.
Keep in mind, these sizes don’t change the mechanical composition of the hearing aid – they all contain the same components needed to improve your hearing, they’re simply housed differently.
Styles of hearing aids
Behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids
The good thing about hearing aid types is that the names are all very easy to understand. A behind-the-ear hearing aid is exactly what you’re probably imagining.
Behind-the-ear hearing aids are small curved cases that fit directly behind the ear. Attached to the hearing aid is a tube or wire that directs the sound into the ear canal. At the end of the tube is either a generic plastic “dome” going into the ear canal, or a custom earmold that has been shaped to fit your ear canal.
These hearing aids have a few different sub-styles.
The most powerful hearing aids – these are generally intended for people with severe to profound hearing loss. These can come in a variety of fun colors.
Smaller hearing aid – less power. As you can tell from the name, these are a smaller version of the standard BTE, and are more appropriate for people with mild to moderately severe hearing loss.
A sort of halfway point between micro BTE and a standard BTE. These are appropriate for just about any degree of hearing loss, and will be modified by your hearing healthcare professional to suit your particular hearing level.
In-the-ear (ITE) hearing aids
The other half of hearing aid designs – ITE hearing aids are inserted directly into the ear canal. Back in the days before the more subtle BTE designs, these were considered to be the more cosmetically appealing option.
BTE hearing aids can sometimes be fit in the office and worn as you walk out, but ITE hearing aids are a bit more detailed. An impression of your ear needs to be taken so that the hearing aid can be custom molded to fit the shape of your ear canal.
Just like BTE hearing aids, ITE hearing aids have many subcategories.
ITE (full shell)
Full shell is the largest kind of ITE hearing aid. It fills the entire bowl of the outside ear (known as the concha.) This would ideally be worn by people with mild to severe hearing loss. As this is the biggest ITE hearing aid, it’s a good choice for people with poor dexterity.
ITE (half shell)
A slightly smaller version of the full shell, the half shell is the same in almost every way – the only difference being that it only takes up half of the concha.
This style of hearing aid fits mostly within the ear canal. Only a small portion is seen when looking in the ear. This style of hearing aid is appropriate for people with mild to moderate hearing loss.
Until recently this was the smallest in-the-ear style hearing aid. Just as the name implies, it fits completely in the ear canal. This style is often prescribed to people with mild to moderate hearing loss.
The newest style of ITE hearing aids, it fits deep in the ear canal to the point where it is invisible. There is a clear plastic cord attached to this hearing aid that’s used to remove it. This hearing aid style is appropriate for people with mild to moderate hearing loss.
Other factors to keep in mind
When choosing which hearing aid style to get, there are a few things you need to consider:
- Smaller hearing aid styles may not be capable of including a button interface. In this case, a remote may be necessary to control hearing aid settings
- Hearing aid style choice may vary the pricing by a few hundred dollars at most. Typically the smaller the hearing aid, the more it will cost
- Smaller hearing aids may not be compatible with some hearing aid accessories, such as TV devices, cell phone connectivity, or FM systems
Alongside these factors, you should also be on the lookout for which features you’d like to include in your hearing aid. Here are a few examples of some features that you might want:
Feedback cancellation – reduces or eliminates “whistling” of the hearing aid.
Directional microphones – improves the ability to hear conversations over background noise by amplifying sounds coming from in front, while reducing the level of sound from behind.
Compression – keeps sounds within the user’s comfortable range. This feature puts a “ceiling” on loud sounds so that they are not amplified above the listeners comfort level. If compression is set correctly in the hearing aid, most users will have no need for a volume control.
Telecoils – an electromagnetic coil within the hearing aid that picks up and amplifies the signal from the telephone. In some hearing aid technologies this is an automatic feature that is activated as soon as the user holds the phone to the hearing aid. In other hearing aids, this feature can be activated through the memory switch on the hearing aid or remote control. This will only work with a telephone that is hearing aid compatible – most cell phones are not.
Multiple channels – each channel in the hearing aid represents a section of frequencies. Generally, the more channels the hearing aid has, the better ability it has to be fine tuned.
Multiple memories – memories are different settings that are programmed into the hearing aid by your Hearing Healthcare Professional for different listening environments.
For example, you may have a memory for quiet environments, one for noisy environments, and one for using the telephone. This allows you to adjust the hearing aid on your own by pressing a memory button on the hearing aid or remote control. Most hearing aids have two or three memories; while more advanced hearing aids can have up to six.
Wireless connectivity – modern digital hearing aids now have the capability of connecting to other accessories to improve the listening experience. You can link your cell phone or iPod/MP3 player with your hearing aids via a Bluetooth interface so that you are able to hear your phone conversations or music through your hearing aids.
There are also wireless television devices and remote controls that are compatible with your hearing aids. You can also use a wireless microphone with your hearing aids to improve speech understanding in background noise.
Digital noise reduction – the potential to improve speech understanding in noisy environments by reducing the amplification of background noise. While this feature has improved drastically over the years, the hearing aid does not always get it right. The hearing aid does not always know what the listener wants to hear, and may actually consider something that wants to be heard as “noise”.
These features are not available in all levels of hearing aid technology. Typically, the more advanced these features are in the hearing aid, the more expensive the hearing aid will be. It is important to discuss this with your Hearing Healthcare Professional before deciding on a hearing aid technology.
The Big Six
The hearing aid industry is largely dominated by “The Big Six” – the six largest hearing aid manufacturers. If you’re looking to buy hearing aids, these companies are a great place to start.
These companies are:
Your hearing healthcare professional will almost definitely sell at least one of these brands, and they all have appropriate models for first-time users.
Rather than a specific step, this section includes some smaller tips that can help you before you dive into the life-changing world of hearing aids.
1. We hear with two ears
We’ll start with the most insultingly obvious point, so allow us to explain ourselves. When you have two earbuds in, it feels like the sound is very centralised in your head. But when you only have one earbud in, it’s very noticeable that the music is coming from one side.
This is why you need to wear two hearing aids if you have binaural hearing loss (hearing loss in both ears.) Binaural amplification helps with speech comprehension (especially in loud environments,) the ability to locate where a sound is coming from, and overall sound quality.
You may have unilateral hearing loss (hearing loss in one ear, not two,) and may only need one hearing aid. But since bilateral hearing loss is far more common, in most cases, two hearing aids are better than one.
2. Hearing aids won’t restore your hearing to normal
We don’t have flying cars, haven’t brought dinosaurs back to life, and a Mars colony is a pipe dream. Science is full of disappointments, one of which being that hearing aids don’t completely fix hearing loss.
Hearing aids are intended to help an individual manage their hearing loss, not to act as a cure. When you remove the hearing aids, you will still have a hearing loss. Hopefully once we’re riding our domesticated pterodactyls on Mars, we’ll have a cure for hearing loss.
3. Everyone is different
Imagine that you’ve been hearing stellar reviews left and right about a new film, and then one of your friends tells you that they didn’t like it. Is this single opinion enough to outweigh countless critical and audience praise?
Hopefully not. That’s why, if you know someone who hasn’t had the greatest experience with hearing aids, you shouldn’t write them off for yourself. You might have an entirely different and entirely positive experience with hearing aids.
There are a lot of elements behind wearing a hearing aid that might influence your friend more than they influence you. They might have not enjoyed the sound of their own voice, it may have been improperly fit, or any other number of things. None of this means that your experience with hearing aids will be unsuccessful.
The most important thing is that you give your hearing healthcare professional the chance to improve your hearing and heed their recommendations. They will be your greatest ally in your battle for better hearing.
4. Other things are included in the cost
Hearing aid pricing will vary depending on the style and technology chosen, ranging anywhere from $1,000-$3,500 per hearing aid. There are dozens of factors behind the pricing of a hearing aid.
These costs greatly depend on the individual clinic that you’re purchasing your hearing aid from. These can cover return consultations, tune-ups, and various other services that you’ll likely need after you adopt your hearing aid.
“If you are buying a digital hearing aid for less than $1,000 you may want to question the quality.” – Lindsey Banks Au.D.
As satisfying as it can be to buy hearing aids on a deal, you should know that skimping out on hearing aids might not be the best idea. It’s very easy to find online hearing aids that seem like absolute bargains, but might end up costing you more in the long term.
If financial issues are a concern, speak to your hearing healthcare professional. Financial assistance for hearing aids varies from state to state. Your health insurance policy or veteran status may also allow you certain affordances as well, so it’s always worth checking.
You’ll also need to know if your batteries are covered by the initial cost, or if you’ll have to fork over more cash to sustain your battery supplies. Speaking of which…
5. Everything about batteries
There are loads of different battery types for hearing aids. Well, there are four. But these can be broken down into disposable and rechargeable batteries. Depending on the size of the battery, the lifespan will vary, with larger batteries obviously being able to hold more charge.
Despite the size difference being only a few millimeters, a smaller battery may hold around three days of charge, while the larger batteries can be used for up to 17 days straight!
If, however, the idea of changing batteries frequently doesn’t thrill you, you could either spring for the aforementioned rechargeable hearing aids, or choose a hearing aid that takes bigger batteries so you have to change them less frequently.
6. Hearing aid warranties
Almost all hearing aids come with two warranties:
Firstly, a “loss and damage warranty” which offers complete replacement of the hearing aid in the case of loss or irreparable damage. This warranty can cover anywhere from one to three years for an individual hearing aid (depending on the manufacturer and model of hearing aid.)
You will be responsible for paying the deductible on the replacement, usually anywhere from $150-$350 if a replacement is issued.
Included with the hearing aid is also a manufacturer’s repair warranty. If the hearing aid has a problem that cannot be fixed in a clinic, it will be sent back to the manufacturer for repair. Depending on the manufacturer and hearing aid model purchased, your repair warranty will be anywhere from one to four years. Typically, there is no charge for in-warranty repairs.
7. Know about your trial period
Since hearing aids are such a big purchase, it’s only fair that you be given a trial period to get to know what you’re in for. After getting your hearing aid, your hearing healthcare professional should allow you a period of time (30-90 days) to get to know the product.
The reason this is such a vast time frame is because adapting to hearing aids can take a while. It always takes time to settle in to new hearing aids – even for people who have already been using them. Make full use of your trial period, and be reasonable – giving up after three days means you aren’t giving the hearing aids – or yourself – a fair trial.
8. How to control your hearing aid
The final piece of this miscellaneous-hearing-aid-tip puzzle is the controls. Or perhaps, the lack thereof.
When hearing aids were big and clunky, they were covered in buttons for things like volume and power, but nowadays, things are a lot sleeker and more subtle. Digital hearing aids sample sound in the nearby environment and adjust according to your comfort level.
Some people, however, prefer the older style. If you don’t trust some robot overlord to adjust your sound intake, you might rather feel the satisfying click of a button under your fingers.
If you’d like to earn your volume adjustments instead of being served bespoke volume levels by an artificial intelligence, then you should know that both options are available to you depending on the model of hearing aid you choose.
Some hearing aids come with both – as the automatic feature of the hearing aids may not meet your needs in 100% of the environments that you are in, so being able to make adjustments on your own is a nice contingency.
But, if you don’t want to worry about fiddling with your hearing aids every few minutes, then the automatic feature of the hearing aids may be enough for you.
If you’ve decided that enough is enough and are now determined to buy hearing aids, you might be looking at what life with a hearing aid is like. Here we’ll give you some tips on how to adapt to a new hearing aid.
1. Don’t expect to hear everything
One of the biggest complaints first time users have when it comes to hearing aids is that they can’t hear everything. While hearing aids are an incredible technology, they aren’t perfect.
As nice as it would be to be able to hear individual people in a noisy restaurant, or your spouse yelling over the TV from another room, even people with good hearing can’t hear everything.
2. Wear both hearing aids together
If you’ve only been diagnosed with unilateral hearing loss (hearing loss in one ear,) then disregard this tip, since you’ve only got one hearing aid to begin with.
If you’re part of the vast majority of hearing loss sufferers who have bilateral hearing loss (hearing loss in both ears,) then know that wearing both hearing aids is crucial when it comes to treating hearing loss. Failure to do so could cause an imbalance between your ears.
3. Adopt your hearing aids into your daily routine
The Three Musketeers of “wallet, keys, phone,” finally found their d’Artagnan*. Putting on your hearing aids should become as much of a permanent fixture in your routine as brushing your teeth. Hearing aids should be worn for 12-16 hours a day, not just when you’re leaving the house or watching TV.
*D’Artagnan is the fourth musketeer who joins throughout the famous story, The Three Musketeers.
4. Give yourself time to adjust to your own voice
It’s a scientifically recognized phenomenon – no one likes the sound of their own voice. This is why, when adopting hearing technology, some people are immediately dismissive of their new hearing capabilities.
If you find this happening, whatever you do, don’t be disheartened and retire your hearing aids. You will adapt to the sound of your own voice in a matter of days, and will slowly forget entirely about how weird you sound.
5. The world might be noisier than you remember
If you’ve been experiencing hearing loss for a good amount of time, you might have forgotten how many sounds naturally occur around you throughout the day. Suddenly you can hear your fridge running, clocks ticking, and even the delightful sound of your own chewing.
Just like with hearing your own voice – the worst thing you can do in this case is to remove your hearing aid in an act of passionate distaste for the cacophonic symphony that unravels around you every day.
But humanity’s greatest trait is our adaptability. Leave the hearing aid in, grin and bear it, and your brain will have filtered out the extra stimuli in no time.
Buying hearing aids
Hearing loss can have detrimental effects on your quality of life, whether you realize it now or not. It is important to take action as soon as you suspect hearing loss. Find a hearing healthcare professional that will walk you through the process and commit yourself to better hearing.
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