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Over the counter Hearing Aids…. Are they worth it?

Hearing loss is detrimental, yet one of the most ignored medical symptom. Hearing loss can cause frustration in communicating with loved ones. Hearing loss can contribute to emotional problems, drop in self-esteem and confidence leading to social withdrawal. Hearing loss can also lead to fewer job opportunities and loss of income. Hearing loss can also be confused with other medical symptoms such as dementia. But perhaps the reason hearing loss is ignored by the sufferer is that pain is in most cases not a symptom associated with hearing loss. We typically go to a physician to find relief for pain. But if we don’t experience pain, we tend to believe “everything is okay”. Except with hearing loss, “everything is not okay”.

Since pain is not involved, a person who believes s/he is suffering from hearing loss may try to find the easy solution and avoid seeing a professional, such as an otolaryngologist or an audiologist. The simple, and least expensive solution, would to simply go to a retail store and by cheap over the counter hearing aids. They may cost somewhere between $50.00 to $250.00 – simply much cheaper than going to an otolaryngologist or an audiologist and investing much more on hearing aids. But research has shown that even though over the counter hearing aids are easily available, still only approximately 30% of estimated people with hearing loss seek hearing loss improvement. This is also the case in China, where hearing aids can be dispensed FOR FREE! Why is that? Perhaps, the fact that pain is not a symptom of hearing loss is a reason people don’t improve their hearing. And also, perhaps over the counter hearing aids just make surrounding noises louder and really don’t improve communication and hearing contributes to that statistic as well. Simply making everything louder doesn’t improve communication.

Hearing disorders are not always to same with each individual. Sometimes, hearing loss is just simply caused by ear wax. Hearing loss may also be due to middle ear infections. But most of the time, hearing loss that occurs gradually or without symptoms of pain is sensorineural, or “nerve loss” that may have occurred over a period of time due to noise exposure, aging, or simply “the outer hair cells and/or hearing nerve not working as well as it used to work”. In this case, the detriments of hearing loss that the sufferer may not be noticing – problems communicating with loved ones, social withdrawal, decreased self-esteem, loss of income – are occurring. Sensorieneural hearing loss affects each individual differently. If that wasn’t the case, simply purchasing a cheap over the counter amplification would fix everything! But as most individuals suffering from hearing loss unfortunately find out, the over the counter aid just didn’t fix their problems. And an unnecessary $250.00 was wasted.

Because each case of hearing disorder is individual, an appointment with an audiologist and otolaryngologist for a hearing test would be a great first step. Even if you are suspecting hearing loss, and especially when your loved ones suspect you are suffering from hearing loss. An audiologist will be able to evaluate your hearing and communication needs, and what will be needed to improve your communication and self-esteem. An otolaryngologist would also be able to treat medical conditions such as ear wax and infections if that were to be the cause of the hearing loss. Thus it is important to FIRST find the cause of hearing loss…which a clerk selling an over the counter hearing aid CANNOT DO. The audiologist will be able to find the appropriate hearing instruments and hearing services that will improve your communication, self-esteem, and enjoyment of life…and maybe even increase your income.

Now, this may mean you need to invest more for appropriate hearing aid systems, whether they be custom fit hearing aids or miniature behind the ear hearing aids, called “Receiver In The Canal” hearing aids, that are discrete that are the most effective and comfortable style today. The technology today is designed for YOUR INDIVIDUAL HEARING LOSS, as simply making everything louder is not effective. The fine tuning of higher technology allows the brain to effectively process incoming sound information needed for communicating, especially in background noise situations such as restaurants. The microphones and computerized technology NOT FOUND in over the counter hearing aids are critical in allowing a person to focus in on speech in noisy environments, and be able to localize speech. Localization is critical in understanding speech in background noise, as well as being able to detect and hear environmental safety sounds. Advanced hearing aids will also provide natural listening so you can enjoy the sounds of nature, such as birds chirping, music, and the laughter of your grandchildren.

We hear with our brain, with the auditory cortex analyzing incoming sound, providing the rest of the brain with information allowing us to communicate and enjoy life activities. If the auditory cortex does not receive accurate sound information, the brain will lose its ability to communicate. Thus, it is CRITICAL that hearing aid systems provide the brain and auditory cortex with accurate sound information needed for hearing, understanding, localizing, and in some cases, overcome the negative effects of tinnitus, a symptoms often associated with hearing loss. These are all things that require highly advanced hearing aid processing. Over the counter hearing aids simply can’t accomplish this. So if you are suffering from hearing loss, don’t think that because there is no pain involved, you can simply save some money and just make everything louder. You are important! Make an investment in better hearing loss improvement and healthcare, and get back in touch with the ones you love!