28 March 2023
“WHAT?” “HUH?” “Mom, would you please turn down the volume on the tv?” These are fairly common statements when dealing with hearing loss. While it is an annoyance for family members and friends, it is no picnic for the person who has lost some hearing. Often people will withdraw from social events or from dining out. Some hearing loss can be resolved easily, some will require an aid, and some loss will not be resolved, but the individual must learn to cope with the less distinct sounds for the rest of their life.
The first step is to check with your primary care doctor. Especially if the loss is sudden, it could be the result of an infection that can be cleared quickly with an antibiotic or round of steroids. If there is a build up of earwax, its removal can make a remarkable improvement in hearing.
Your primary care team can recommend a licensed audiologist to assess the full range of your hearing capabilities. The patient is placed in a sound proof room and asked to wear headphones. There is a large window so that you can see the technician, so don’t worry about claustrophobia. The audiologist will transmit sounds to the headphones one ear at a time. The tones will be at different volumes and pitches. The patient will either raise their hand or press a button each time they hear something. The specialist will record the patient’s ability to hear each tone and produce a printout to see if there is a loss or not.
You could also be referred to an ENT, a physician specializing in ear, nose, and throat ailments. Within that field the specialties can include otology, neurotology, and audiology, which deal in conditions dealing with the ear including balance and tinnitus.
Hearing loss can have a number of causes:
- Aging – As we get older, parts just wear out.
- Exposure, especially on a continuing basis, to loud noises
- Earwax build up
- Abnormal growths or tumors
- Ruptured eardrum or tympanic membrane perforation
After reviewing all the notes from the examinations and tests, the doctor will determine if a hearing aid will resolve or at least improve the quality of the patient’s hearing.
Hearing aids amplify or increase the sounds around a person through a microphone that will receive the sound waves and convert it into a digital signal. The strength of the signal will be increased through the digital operation and a speaker will focus the louder sound into the ear. All of this in a device that can be fitted into and around the ear and within seconds.
If it turns out that you are a good candidate for a hearing aid, there are some things to be aware of:
- Inquire about a trial period. Be sure to have it in writing about what the trial period will cost, whether that amount is then credited toward the purchase price, how long the trial period will be, and if any of that amount is refundable.
- If there is a warranty, find out exactly what it covers. It could be any combination of parts, labor, time frame, office visits, or other professional services. Aids usually last around five years.
- Basically hearing aids amplify the sound. They will not restore hearing.
One of the more common hearing complaints revolves around ambient noise, like the background noise in a crowded restaurant. Digital aids can be programmed for more than one listening program. Some will even automatically change when necessary. If your device is not so equipped, there are aids with directional focus, or the ability to have one microphone toward what you want to hear and the other decreasing the sound.
Medicare does not cover the cost of hearing aids, but some private carriers will. Check your policy to see if you qualify. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will provide an aid at no cost for those who qualify.
It may take some time to get used to a hearing aid so you need to be a bit patient. It is important to return to the audiologist for a follow up to be sure everything is functioning as it should.