Back to Document
What You Need to Know About Hearing Aids
Hearing loss is common, especially as people get older. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, one-third of adults older than age 60 have hearing loss, and one-half of adults over age 85 are affected.
Hearing loss often starts with an inability to hear high-frequency sounds. A person with diminished hearing often will complain that he or she can hear others just fine but can't make out what they're saying.
If you suspect you have a hearing problem, make an appointment with an otolaryngologist, a doctor who specializes in ear, nose, and throat problems; or an otologist, a doctor who specializes in diseases and conditions of the ears, including hearing loss.
The doctor will examine your ears and ask questions about your hearing. After ruling out some sort of obvious obstruction or major ear infection, most doctors will use a tuning fork to make a preliminary assessment, followed by more advanced tests that will determine the extent and frequency range of your loss.
If your doctor recommends a hearing aid, the following suggestions can help you determine which kind will suit you best.
Buying a hearing aid
The three basic styles of hearing aids differ by size, placement on or inside the ear, and amplification standards. They each work differently, depending on the electronics used.
With hearing loss, you lose hearing in various frequencies, or ranges of sound. A digital hearing aid can be programmed to boost specific frequencies. This dramatically improves your ability to understand of speech over an analog hearing aid, which amplifies all frequencies. Amplifying all frequencies might improve hearing, but not improve the clarity of speech. A programmable analog hearing aid tries to overcome this deficiency. By adjusting the amplifier, you can adjust certain ranges of pitch just as you would on your home stereo. A programmable analog hearing aid is not as adjustable as a digital hearing aid. Digital hearing aids can be programmed to boost a single, specific frequency.
With today's technology, behind-the-ear aids are small, powerful, and easy to handle for cleaning, changing the battery, and adjusting the volume. They are user-friendly even though they are more noticeable.
The in-the-ear models come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some are plainly visible and fill the entire, bowl-shaped part of the outer ear. Others can hardly be seen and fit almost completely in the ear canal.
You have two basic choices in circuitry—digital and analog. The circuitry is the machinery within the hearing aid that processes sound. The size and shape of the hearing aid are independent of the circuitry because manufacturers can fit any kind of circuitry into almost any size hearing aid.
The price of a hearing aid varies, depending on the circuitry, but as a rule, the smaller the hearing aid, the more expensive it is. Digital is more expensive than analog. Programmable analog hearing aids are midway between basic analog hearing aids and digital models in terms of price.
In most states, two kinds of specialists are licensed to fit you for a hearing aid: audiologists and hearing-aid dispensers, sometimes called hearing-instrument specialists. Audiologists must have at least a master's degree to be licensed to practice in various states of the U.S. A doctoral degree is required for licensure in some states, and is required in order to be board certified by the American Board of Audiology. Audiologists are licensed to evaluate hearing and fit people with hearing aids. Many are affiliated with hospitals and schools. Dispensers usually are licensed only to sell and fit hearing aids.
Hearing loss is the most common birth defect among newborns, occurring in three out of 1,000 babies. At Chris Evert Children’s Hospital, we believe that every baby should be screened for hearing loss shortly after birth. Audiologists and specially trained screeners are available seven days a week to perform hearing exams. The standard of care far exceeds State of Florida mandates, so we deliver the highest quality hearing services for babies and their families.
The Infant Hearing Screening is performed in the room while the mother watches. This technique is imperative in building a relationship between the parent of the baby and the audiologist. Using the Automated Brainstem Response (ABR) screening technology, the screener can determine a pass/fail response for each ear. Tiny headphones are placed on the baby’s head, while sensors are attached to the neck and forehead. A soft click or tone plays in each ear and the sensors will retrieve the response according to brainwaves. The test only takes about fifteen minutes and is so gentle that in most cases the baby sleeps through it.
If a baby does not pass the first hearing screen, a second test will be conducted. Upon the failure of the second test, an audiologist will perform a more complex exam called SoundGene™. SoundGene™ is now available to identify some of the most common types of hearing loss in infants. Approximately 50% of all hearing loss cases are related to genetic factors. With just a tiny prick from the baby’s heel and a few drops of blood, DNA-based testing is performed. If hearing loss is detected, the audiologist may suggest a hearing aid.
When left untreated, hearing loss can affect a child’s social, emotional and academic development. Early detection, therefore, is critical. The quicker a hearing loss problem is diagnosed, the sooner your baby can receive the necessary treatment. Hearing health is crucial in motor skills and speech development. Babies build communication skills from the moment of their birth. Because babies learn to speak by listening, early screening will give them a fair chance to adapt to their impairment and develop healthy motor skills.
Educational literature about hearing loss is provided in English, Spanish, Creole, Russian, Chinese, Arabic, French and Vietnamese to guarantee the correct information is being communicated. Brochures highlight the milestones for required hearing tests, so they can be educated on the typical expectations for their child’s hearing development.