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How to Buy Hearing Aids

Before buying a hearing aid, there are two basic questions that you need answers first.

Do I have hearing loss? You can do a hearing loss self-assessment by answering a few questions and listening to some hearing testing audio. If the answer is yes, you need to ask yourself the next question. If you have other symptoms, such as earache, see a doctor as soon as possible.

Is hearing aid the answer to my hearing loss? This question can only be answered by your doctor. You may need other medical treatments and hearing aid alone may not solve your problem. For example, if the hearing loss is caused by excessive earwax, removal is the key; the hearing loss (e.g. glue ear) may be temporary and would disappear in a few months. Seek medical help.

For the purpose of this article, we call “hearing aid” a device that would improve your hearing and we are not going to make the distinction as FDA does. Personal sound amplifier is considered to be a hearing aid here. In fact, personal sound amplifier can be a good option for people with mild hearing loss.

What to expect

Hearing aid, with the current technology, cannot return your hearing back to the way it was. Hearing aid can only help you. It would take time to adjust to a new way of hearing, which is really a rehabilitative treatment. Be Patient; it is a gradual process.

Background research

Buying a hearing aid can be a major expense and the cost is not covered by most insurance (VA is one noticeable exception). In one 2009 survey, the media price was $3,352 per pair. Medicare will only cover the medical exam and an audiologist's test if ordered by a physician. It is advisable to do some planning prior to purchasing. Hearing aid is a complex device and has many “extras.” As an educated consumer, you can demand better services and save thousands of dollars.

After making the decision to have a hearing aid, you need to understand what they are; otherwise you would not know what you are buying. you need to determine what features do you really need and what do you want (they are not the same). Here is a list of background information you should know before making any choices.

  • Your level of hearing loss: Conduct a self-assessment to get some idea where your hearing is. This would dictate the type of hearing aid and features you need. Your doctor should be able to tell you also. Your hearing level would be in an audiogram if you have one.
  • Hearing aid features: You need a general understanding what they are and their pros and cons. See Hearing Aid Features for more details.
  • Types of hearing aids: There are many types of hearing aids and they differ mostly in size, power and technology. The key driving factor for many people is the appearance – how much do they want to make the hearing aid “invisible” to others; however some essential features required for severe hearing loss are only available in behind-the-ear aids (BTE) where there is more room to house the circuits. See Hearing Aids for more details on different types of hearing aids.

Audiologists

Most people went to an otolaryngologist (an ear, nose, and throat physician) or an audiologist for getting hearing aids. They will provide you with information, create an audiogram, assist you in finding suitable hearing aids and tune them for optimal hearing. You should also expect to pay for the professional service. If you have severe hearing loss and you are new to hearing aids, this is probably your best option.

Make sure the audiologist would give you a copy of the final report, including the audiogram. Sadly, some audiologists would not release the report because they want your money for the hearing aids also. If he refuses, find another one.

Finding a good and reliable audiologist can be difficult. Consumer Report published an article Hearing Aid Shoppers Pay High Prices, Get Mediocre Fittings on the results of buying and testing 48 hearing aids.

Consumer Reports’ shoppers purchased two pairs of hearing aids each, or 48 aids in all, ranging from $1,800 to $6,800 per pair, including professional fitting and follow-up services, in the New York City metropolitan area. The right fit did not come easily. Consumer Reports had audiologists check to see how well providers fit shoppers’ hearing aids to their individual hearing loss. Two-thirds of the 48 aids purchased were misfit: They amplified too little or too much. And yet, according to the national survey, a resounding 73% of hearing aid users were highly satisfied with their aids, suggesting many individuals may be so pleased with improved hearing that they do not seek out fine tuning of their aids, potentially missing out on an even better fit.
The survey also underscored the lack of information that’s reaching consumers about which features are valuable and which aren’t. One-fourth of respondents to the Consumer Reports Survey said they didn’t know whether their aids had feedback suppression, and a third didn’t know whether they had directional microphones. Both features can be critical to performance.

The Consumer Report survey suggested that consumers were not getting top professional services they deserved. This leads to another question - can a consumer do a better job tuning a hearing aid? The answer is yes if you have the patience and are willing to spend time to do research and experiment. The simple reason is that you can spend hours fine-tuning your own hearing aids and an audiologist cannot.

We will cover strategies in buying hearing aids without engaging an audiologist in Part II of this article.

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