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Sound out hearing aid purchases

A hearing aid may help you if you have hearing loss. However, purchasing one requires careful thought. The more you know about hearing aids, the more likely you are to find a hearing aid that meets your needs.

"You should hear what you're missing."

If you've received that comment from friends, relatives or your doctor, you may find yourself in the market for a hearing aid. By taking some time to learn about hearing aids, you give yourself an important advantage when you're ready to make a purchase.

Square one

If you're thinking about getting a hearing aid, the first thing to do is see your doctor. Some cases of hearing loss have simple medical solutions. And depending on the type of hearing loss you have, your doctor may recommend seeing an otolaryngologist (a doctor who specializes in problems with the ear, nose and throat).

Your doctor can also refer you to an audiologist (an expert on evaluating and treating hearing loss). Based on the results of a hearing test, the audiologist can help you find the hearing aid that's most likely to meet your needs.

The best hearing aid choice for you depends on several factors, including:

  • The cause of your hearing loss.
  • The shape of your ear and ear canal.
  • Medical conditions that affect your ears, such as excessive earwax.
  • Whether you can or care to adjust hearing aid settings on your own.
  • Your lifestyle, including how active you are and whether you wear eyeglasses.
  • How much money you can or want to spend on hearing aids.
  • What type and level of hearing improvement you want.
What's out there

Hearing aids are all designed to amplify sounds, but they come in many types and styles.

Behind-the-ear (BTE) models hook over the outside of the ear and send sounds into the ear via a clear plastic tube. BTE models are used by people of all ages with mild to very severe hearing loss. These models are less likely to cause feedback—a whistling sound—than some other styles. And because they block the ear canal less than other types of hearing aids, they may be best for people who have certain medical problems or other issues that require the ears to be well-ventilated, such as excessive earwax or drainage.

In-the-ear (ITE) hearing aids are custom-made to fit the outer ear, the bowl-shaped part of the ear that leads into the ear canal. ITE aids are used for hearing loss that ranges from mild to severe. They're smaller than BTE models, but still large enough to include special devices such as telecoils, which provide extra hearing help on the telephone or with special sound systems found in some public places such as theaters and concert halls.

Canal aids are custom-made to fit partially or completely inside the ear canal. These styles work well for people with mild to moderately severe hearing loss, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD). They can be damaged by earwax or other fluid in the ear, so people with any excess moisture in the ear may not be good candidates. Because of their small size, they can also be difficult for some people to adjust or handle.

Some hearing aids contain computer chips that process sounds digitally. Digital aids offer the most flexibility in choosing which types of sounds to amplify and how much to amplify them. Digital processing can be installed in any type of hearing aid.

Other hearing aids are preprogrammed with different settings. You can change the hearing aid setting based on your environment—a quiet conversation as opposed to a dinner party, for instance.

Before you buy

The NIDCD suggests asking these questions before you purchase your hearing aid:

  • Which design is best for my hearing loss?
  • What is the total cost of the hearing aids?
  • Will I get a trial period to test how the hearing aids work for me? If I return them, are there any costs that won't be refunded?
  • What does the warranty cover, and for how long?
  • Who will provide servicing and repairs? Will I be able to borrow hearing aids while mine are being fixed?
  • Can the hearing aids be used with assistive hearing devices for the television, phone and in theaters and concert halls?

Hearing aid prices range from hundreds to thousands of dollars. Hearing aids with digital processing or preprogramming are generally the most expensive. 

When you're weighing your options, try to remember that the most expensive hearing aids aren't always the best solution. A moderately priced hearing aid with the features you need may be a better choice. At the same time, going for the hearing aid that costs the least isn't always in your best interest. An inexpensive hearing aid does you little good if it needs frequent repairs.

And remember that looks aren't everything. A largely unnoticeable hearing aid is worthless if it doesn't help your hearing.

Taking them home

It takes time to adjust to new hearing aids. You may start hearing sounds you haven't heard in a long time (background noises in particular) and your own voice may sound funny to you. Give yourself time to get used to hearing differently.

Even so, you should expect the aids to be comfortable and to improve your hearing. You also should not have feedback noises. If your hearing aids aren't meeting these standards, call your audiologist.

To keep problems to a minimum, take good care of your hearing aids:

  • Keep them away from heat and moisture.
  • Replace dead batteries right away.
  • Clean them as directed.
  • Avoid twisting or bending any tubing.
  • Don't apply hairspray or other hair products while wearing your hearing aids.
  • Don't try to repair the hearing aids yourself.
  • Turn your hearing aids off when you're not using them.

reviewed 1/24/2020

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