Determine the best course of treatment for the type and severity of hearing loss.
Depending on the hearing loss you have, your doctor may recommend hearing aids to help improve your ability to hear and understand others. This can be a very intimidating and confusing process. There are many different options available to choose from, and the right hearing aid can make the difference between much better communication and disappointment and annoyance. Here are some tips to help with the decision process.
Hearing aids and Personal Sound Amplification Products (PSAPs) can vary dramatically in cost from several hundred to several thousand dollars and few insurance plans cover the cost. To some extent, the old adage, "You get what you pay for" certainly applies. The cheap end of the spectrum usually means there is no customization of the fit or amplification of sound. More expensive models can include a wide array of features, styles, and advancements that make you hearing aids not only more functional, but more enjoyable as well. Newer models can include directional microphones, multiple sound amplification programs, optional white noise to mask tinnitus or ringing, Bluetooth capabilities, and accessories to allow the hearing aids to be used in a wide variety of different situations.
Hearing aids can vary from a device that is nearly completely hidden in the ear canal to a mold that fills the ear opening with a processor and receiver that sits behind the ear. Not all styles of hearing aids are suitable for all types of hearing loss. It is important to choose a style that is comfortable for you or it will just sit on the nightstand or in the bathroom cabinet. In-the-canal aids can hide well from view, but can also amplify less and create more feedback. Behind-the-ear aids can be connected to a small speaker in the canal with either a wire or tube that can also hide very well from view. There are also bone-anchored hearing aids that send the vibrations through the skull to the inner ear. Be sure to ask about the benefits and drawbacks of the different designs and what would be best recommended for your individual situation.
Hearing aids currently require a medical evaluation for dispensing. Personal Amplification Sound Products (PSAPs) are available over the counter for a fraction of the cost of hearing aids, but are only appropriate for a limited number of cases. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration currently states that "PSAPs are not intended to be used as hearing aids to compensate for hearing impairment," but they may be helpful to some people with mild to moderate hearing loss. There is also legislation that may allow hearing aids to be purchased without a medical evaluation. While this can represent a significant cost savings, the chance for a significant medical problem to go unnoticed is greatly increased. There is also a greater likelihood that any issues that could be corrected will be missed and the chance to treat them will be lost.