As an audiologist, I get to see patients every day seeking better hearing. Every so often, one of my patients will tell me about a friend they have who bought a mail order or over-the-counter hearing aids and wonder what I think about their friend’s decision. But instead of giving an immediate response, I like to ask, “How is your friend enjoying their hearing aids?” The responses vary, ranging from “They thought it was a hunk of junk,” to “they love it!” I think the difference is in the patient’s expectation. If someone is expecting to be able to wear these devices full time in a variety of different listening situations, they will be sorely disappointed. However these devices can work well for isolated situations where there isn’t much background noise, like watching TV, or conversation in quiet.
Getting the right hearing aid fit
Hearing aids are prescription fit, so buying hearing devices off the shelf is a lot like purchasing reading glasses at your local drugstore. While they may work for reading, it’s probably not a good idea to try driving with them on. In the same way, hearing devices should be fit according to a precise prescription. In order to do that, we need to first obtain an accurate audiological evaluation. Additionally, I like to sit down with each patient to find out more about their hearing health history and their personal lifestyle. What environments are most important to them to hear better in? How often are they around demanding listening situations such as background noise? The answers to these questions, along with a full audiological evaluation will help point us in the right direction for each individual. No two hearing losses are exactly alike, and no two lifestyles are alike. A good audiologist will take the time to listen, ask good questions, and inform you about all of the options available to you.
Why is their hearing loss?
Another important thing to consider is asking the question, “Why is the hearing loss there in the first place?” Is there an underlying medical condition that should be diagnosed and treated? How will the over-the-counter device user know if they are walking around with a serious underlying medical issue if they don’t see the right professional? Hearing losses can develop from something as simple as wax build up in the ear canal to something as severe as a tumor growing along the acoustic nerve. These are very serious considerations for anyone experiencing a hearing loss.
I would encourage anyone who has experienced difficulty hearing to make an appointment to see an audiologist. They are the professional who has been trained to ask the right questions, perform testing, and make the most appropriate recommendations for better hearing.