Perhaps you have heard or read about changes that are coming regarding your ability to buy hearing aids. It is true, big changes are on the horizon.

Some hearing products are going to be produced for sale directly to consumers. These are defined as for “mild to moderate” hearing loss. How do you know what is mild to moderate hearing loss? That is the challenge. If your hearing is worse than the effect of sticking your fingers in your ears, you need professional help. Many products proclaim you don’t need a hearing evaluation and that you can adjust them with your phone, yourself. That is true and not true.

Think of these hearing products as being similar to the “cheater” glasses you can buy anywhere. They will help in some circumstances. They will be less expensive. They will not work well for more challenging hearing problems or challenging listening situations.

With “Direct to Consumer,” or sometimes called “Over The Counter” hearing products, you will be able to purchase on-line or go to your favorite retail store. It’s possible that, if you have the right “Smart” phone with the right version of software, you will be able to adjust some aspects of the sound coming from these products. While you can make some adjustments with a “smart” phone, those adjustments will be far more limited than what an Audiologist can do. You can obtain DTC hearing products without a professional hearing test.

We all know you need a “real” eye exam to purchase “real” glasses. You will find the same is true when taking care of your hearing. Just like with your eyes, a professional evaluation by an Audiologist is the best way to identify what your hearing needs are. These days, your professional Audiologist can test a lot more than just beep sounds in the sound-controlled booth. Your Audiologist can measure how well you perform when there are multiple voices talking, how loud is too loud, and what level you prefer to listen to. The professional evaluation performed by your Audiologist is directly comparable between providers located around the country and over time. Your Audiologist will monitor for indications of health problems that may need medical attention. Your Audiologist can also screen and monitor aspects of mental cognition that predict hearing aid feature needs and changes in mental function.

There are some significant details are glossed over in advertising campaigns for DTC hearing products. One is related to the maximum loudness. Direct to Consumer aids are currently capable of producing sound up to 120dB. OSHA requires hearing protection at 85dB. Thus, be very careful not to set them too loud. YOU COULD CAUSE INCREASED HEARING LOSS when listening through these products.

In many cases, treating hearing loss is more complicated than treating vision loss. A simple product, adjusted by a simple phone app is not going to give adequate hearing assistance because it does not provide adequate measurement of your needs. Use of DTC hearing aids will help you to some extent. Use of advanced technology that is available and programmed by your Audiologist will give your hearing greater assistance.

Remember that hearing aids provided through your Audiologist:

• Can be professionally re-adjusted as your hearing needs change

• Have an option to easily exchange to a different model during your introductory period.

• Come with the option for a refund of your instrument costs. The refund is provided minus the cost of services you have received. It is available you decide, during the introductory period, not to continue with your hearing aids.

• Have blue-tooth connectivity so that you can hear a phone conversation directly in your hearing aid. This helps you clearly hear the person talking and gives you more privacy.

• Are more discrete in appearance

• Are available in rechargeable models so that you don’t have to change batteries

• Have optional accessories to give you further improved hearing with your TV, or in noisy places

• Can have the fitting/settings verified via Real Ear testing to measure the sound coming out of the hearing aid, as it’s sitting in your ear. This makes sure it’s set appropriately for your needs.

• Come with a warranty for repair services

• Come with insurance for replacement if lost or damaged beyond repair

Your audiologist is there to help you understand how to properly insert your hearing aids, how to use them and how to obtain the correct app on your phone and how to use it. Your Audiologist will provide additional instruction to assist you with communication strategies to get the most out of your hearing aids.

Hearing aids often need continuing care. They are an electronic device used on a biological being, where they are exposed to moisture from perspiration or the environment, ear wax, being dropped, temperature extremes and other hazards on a regular basis. Just as your vehicle requires regular maintenance, so do your hearing aids.

Recent research indicates that hearing aids are frequently exposed to enough moisture that it interferes with optimal sound performance. Most Audiologists have equipment to dry out this moisture and get your hearing aids working properly again. Most people don’t even notice when their hearing performance has declined, which is why regularly scheduled visits are a good idea.

Hearing products you purchase directly may help you. When you find the help is not meeting your needs, it is time to consult with your Audiologist. Current research demonstrates that even small changes in hearing will result in changes in the brain. Your brain needs hearing stimulation and any amount of hearing loss should not be disregarded or considered, “normal.”

Many Audiologists will be happy to assist you with your choice of hearing product and try to find ways for you to obtain optimal benefit from it. See your local Audiologist for help in determining the best choice for your needs, or for help with the choice you have already made. Good communication is a gift and not a commodity. Your Audiologist is here to help you hear and communicate as well as possible, regardless of your product choice or location of purchase.

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Laura O'Brien Robertson, Au.D. is a Doctor of Audiology.  She is located at Audiology Specialists, 211 South Main Street, In Lacona.  Dr. Robertson can be reached at 603-528-7700.  She has provided hearing care to the Lakes Region Since 1992.

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