Straight Talk About Hearing Loss and Hearing Aids
Do You Have Trouble Hearing?
If you have trouble hearing, you're not alone.
More than 25 million Americans have hearing loss, including
one out of four people older than 65. Hearing loss may come
from infections, strokes, head injuries, some medicines,
tumors, other medical problems, or even too much ear wax.
It can also result from repeated exposure to very loud noise,
such as music, power tools, or jet engines. Changes in the
way the ear works as a person ages can also affect hearing.
For Most People, There Is Help
The good news is that, for most people who
have a hearing loss, there are ways to fix the problem.
So if you have trouble hearing, visit your doctor or hearing
health-care professional to find out if you have a hearing
loss and, if so, how to treat it. The U. S. Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) has rules to make sure that treatments
for hearing loss--medicines, hearing aids, and other medical
devices--are safe and really work.
You Might Need A Hearing Aid If:
- people say you're shouting when you talk to them
- you need the TV or radio turned up louder than other
- you often have to ask people to repeat what they say
because you can't quite hear them, especially in groups
or when there is background noise
- you can't hear a noise if you're not facing the direction
it's coming from
- you seem to hear better out of one ear than the other
- you have to strain to hear
- you keep hearing a hissing or ringing background noise
- you can't hear a dripping faucet or the high notes
of a violin.
If you have any of these symptoms, see your
doctor or hearing health-care professional so you can be
tested for hearing loss.
Hearing Tests and Treatments
To find out what kind of hearing loss you
have and whether all the parts of your ear are working OK,
your doctor may want you to take a hearing test. These tests
are often given by a health-care professional that specializes
in hearing, such as an audiologist. Audiologists are usually
not medical doctors but are trained to give hearing tests
and interpret the results. Hearing tests are painless.
If the hearing test shows that you have a
hearing loss, there may be one or more ways to treat it.
Possible treatments include medication, surgery or a hearing
Hearing aids can usually help hearing loss
that involves damage to the inner ear. This type of hearing
loss is common in older people as part of the aging process.
But younger people can also have it from infections or repeated
exposure to loud noises.
Hearing Aids and Cell Phones
Cell phones and hearing aids don't work very
well together, so you may not be able to use a cell phone
while you're wearing a hearing aid. This is because electromagnetic
interference between the phone and the hearing aid causes
buzzing or static. Scientists are trying to find out more
about this problem and what can be done about it.
Types of Hearing Aids
All hearing aids have these parts:
- a microphone, to pick up sound
- an amplifier, to make sound louder
- a speaker, to bring sound to the ear
- a battery.
Some people only need a hearing aid for one
ear. Other people need one for each ear. If you need a hearing
aid, your doctor will know whether you need one or two.
Here are some of the most common types of hearing aids:
Behind-the-Ear: This kind of hearing
aid fits behind the ear and carries sound to the ear through
a custom ear mold. Hearing aids that are attached to eyeglasses
are a type of behind-the-ear hearing aid. They are useful
for mild to severe hearing loss.
In-the-Ear: These are custom-made
to fit in the outer ear. You can't see any wires because
they are inside the aid. They are useful for mild to moderate
In-the-Ear-Canal: This kind of hearing
aid is custom-made to fit in the ear canal. There are no
outside wires or tubes. These hearing aids are almost impossible
to see. They help people with all but the worst hearing
On-the-Body: These are for very bad
hearing loss. They include a case with a larger microphone,
amplifier and battery. The case can be carried in pockets
or attached to clothing. The case is connected by a wire
to an ear receiver that is attached to an ear mold.
You may have heard about a device to help
hearing that is implanted behind the ear during surgery.
This device is called a cochlear (pronounced COKE-lee-ur)
implant. It is only used for very bad hearing loss. It gets
its name from the medical term for the inner earÑ the cochlea.
A cochlear implant doesn't completely restore hearing but
it helps a person hear sounds and conversations better.
The device has several parts:
- An electronic device placed in the bone of the skull,
behind the outer ear.
- Wires and electrodes inserted into the inner ear,
- A microphone and transmitter that are worn outside
If your hearing is very bad, your doctor could
decide if a cochlear implant could help you.
Have Your Hearing Tested
Not everyone with a hearing problem can be
helped by a hearing aid. Your doctor or hearing health-care
professional is the best person to know if a hearing aid
might help you.
You should have your hearing tested by a specialist
before you buy a hearing aid. It's best to get your hearing
test from a licensed hearing health professional. If the
hearing test shows that you need a hearing aid, you will
get a note or prescription saying your hearing has been
tested and you need a hearing aid. The note may also say
what kind of hearing aid the hearing health-care professional
You may see ads that say that you can buy
a hearing aid without being examined. This is true--it's
up to you. But if you decide you don't want a medical exam
to rule out a medical reason for the hearing loss, you will
have to sign a written statement called a waiver. The waiver
says that the company or person selling the hearing aid
has told you that FDA has determined that it is in your
best health interest to have a medical examination by a
licensed physician--preferably one that specializes in ear
diseases--before buying a hearing aid, but that you decided
not to have the medical exam.
Ads may also offer money-back guarantees if
you're not satisfied with the hearing aid. Make sure you
read and understand what the seller is promising. The best
place to buy a hearing aid is from a licensed hearing aid
dispenser, or seller. To find out if the seller is licensed,
call or write your local Better Business Bureau, or your
state's attorney general.