Hearing is essential to fully enjoying and participating in life, but one in 10 Americans — more than 31 million — experience some degree of hearing loss. This makes it our nation’s third most prevalent chronic health condition, after arthritis and high blood pressure. Hearing loss is a chronic health condition involving psychological, social, and emotional effects. Hearing aids can help! How do you know whether you or someone you love might benefit from hearing aids? • Family or friends often have to repeat what they say • Frustration from not clearly understanding others • Trouble understanding speech on television at normal volume levels • Trouble understanding speech when background noise is present • Embarrassment from being unable to hear when meeting new people.
There are several styles of hearing aids available. Open-fit hearing aids are now the most popular style of hearing aids. Open-fit hearing aids are typically smaller than traditional behind ear style hearing aids. They contain a thin plastic tube that extends over the outer ear and into the ear canal. It is virtually invisible. In addition to being cosmetically appealing, the “open fit” tube avoids the occlusion or “stopped up” feeling of in-the-ear hearing aids. Many colors and styles are available to suit each patient’s hair color or fashion desires. The custom-made in-ear styles became available in the early 1980s. An ITE hearing aid can fit for the majority of hearing losses. This size is the easiest to handle for patients whose hands are no longer as nimble as they used to be. Its larger size also accommodates a larger battery, which translates to longer battery life. Smaller CIC or completely in the canal hearing aids are very discreet but do fill up the ear canal which can cause a “stopped up” feeling. All the hearing aids we fit now are 100% digital.
Frequently Asked Questions:
What is a digital hearing aid? Digital hearing instruments represent the most advanced technology available today and allow the most precise prescriptive fitting. These instruments contain a tiny custom programmed chip and offer the best way to match a particular patient’s hearing loss with the precise amplification needed. Their unique technology separates the incoming sound into discreet bands or channels, each of which can be processed independently. Complete flexibility and amazing fine-tuning capability are among the many benefits.
Why has the open-fit hearing aid style become so popular? The quickness and ease of fitting, patient comfort, no “stopped up” feeling while wearing them and the discreet size makes the open-fit style almost invisible when worn. This category of hearing aid has been widely available for years and has become our biggest selling style. Originally designed to fit only high frequency hearing loss, open-fit styles are now even smaller and can fit a wide range of hearing difficulty.
What are some of the features of modern hearing aids? • Directional Microphones. These improve speech understanding in noisy environments by using two microphones to better separate unwanted sounds behind the wearer from the important speech sounds in front of the wearer. • Multiple Compression Channels. This is the “automatic volume control” which reacts quickly enough to increase the volume for crucial speech sounds, lower it for louder ambient noises and protect the wearer from sudden loud sounds like slamming doors. • Multiple Programs. Also called “memories,” these let the wearer change the manner in which the hearing aid processes sound when moving from one environment to another, providing more control over various listening situations. • Noise Reduction. This makes listening to speech more comfortable in difficult or noisy situations, as well as reducing wind noise when outside. Noise reduction is available in different levels of technology and can vary in its effectiveness. Therefore, it is important to understand that having noise reduction in hearing aids does not mean background noise is eliminated. • Feedback Cancellation. Annoying whistling or squealing are virtually eliminated with this digital feature, allowing for greater clarity of important speech.
I’ve worn hearing aids before. Will the newer digital hearing aid features help me? In the past few years, we have seen tremendous advances in hearing aid features. This has led to consumer satisfaction rates reaching an all-time high. Most consumers want technology to help them hear better when background noise is present and to minimize feedback.
Will my hearing become worse if I wait to buy hearing aids? For years we have known that aging and noise exposure take their toll on our ability to hear. This is true whether or not we use hearing aids. However, research shows that the ability to make sense of what we hear deteriorates more rapidly if the hearing pathway is not stimulated. Therefore, a decision to delay being fit with hearing aids will not cause hearing to become worse, but it may make it more difficult to adapt and benefit from hearing aids later on. This is a very good reason for not waiting until hearing aids are absolutely needed. Unfortunately, we see too many people make the mistake of waiting to buy hearing aids because they feel their hearing “isn’t bad enough.”
I see numerous hearing aid advertisements in my newspaper for “thousands of dollars off” a digital hearing aid, “25 people wanted for a study,” and “buy one get one free.” Are these legit?
We see these same ads in our local paper and realize they are mostly confusing and misleading. For example, ads like these beg the questions: “Thousands of dollars off what price?” and “Why are you doing a study now? Shouldn’t this have been done before the devices came to market?” In addition, do you really think any manufacturer provides a “free” hearing aid? At Southern Head & Neck Surgery, we do not believe in using misleading marketing tactics to gain your interest. Our goal is to educate you toward making a smart buying decision that is easy and worry-free.
What brands of hearing aids do you carry? There are more than 20 different hearing aid manufacturers, but only a few companies research and design the digital circuits on the market. At Southern Head & Neck Surgery, we commonly dispense Starkey and Siemens hearing aids. Starkey is an American company which is a world leader in research and development of hearing innovation. Starkey was the first company to offer breakthroughs such as feedback suppression, nanotechnology, and touch technology. Starkey was the first to create an in-canal hearing aid and the first to offer custom digital hearing aids. Starkey offers the best warranty and will extend out to five years. Siemens is also an excellent company and one of the world’s largest hearing aid manufacturers. Siemens is a German company with bases in the US, and also invests heavily in R&D.
Information about the Audiologist: The audiologist at Southern Head & Neck Surgery is Lori McCollum. She received her bachelor and master’s degrees from Auburn University, completed an internship at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and worked for an ENT practice in Tuscaloosa prior to joining Dr. McLeod’s staff in 1998. She is nationally certified and licensed to practice audiology by the state of Alabama. She completes continuing education hours each year to stay on top of the latest technology.
The First Step Towards Getting Hearing Aids: The first step is the hearing evaluation, which tells the degree and nature of your hearing loss. If hearing aids are recommended, you and Lori will discuss the different styles and levels of technology available, and you decide what is best for you. All our hearing aids are special-ordered. When you are ready to order them, measurements or impressions of your ears may be taken, depending on the style, and you pay half downpayment (your insurance most likely does not cover hearing aids.) An appointment is scheduled for the initial fitting in one to two weeks, at which time you pay the balance of the cost.
What to Expect When You Pick Up the Hearing Aids: This can be a lengthy appointment of 30-45 minutes or so, at which Lori will program the hearing aids according to your hearing, and will teach you about wearing and caring for the hearing aids. She will cover insertion and removal of the hearing aids from your ears, the parts of the hearing aids, adjusting the controls on your hearing aids (if applicable), how long your batteries should last, how and where to buy your batteries, basic hearing aid maintenance (daily cleaning, wax filters, etc), warranty and return policy. There will be a contract prepared listing the dates of return period and warranty expiration. Be sure to ask any questions you may have. Be aware that your voice will sound different the first few days you wear the hearing aids. A follow up appointment is usually scheduled for a week or two after you take the hearing aids home.
The First Month: Adjusting to your new hearing aids will take practice, perseverance, and patience. During the first few days, use your hearing aids in quieter familiar surroundings for a few hours at a time. This will give you a feeling for the amplified sounds. As you become more comfortable, begin to wear them in noisier surroundings. The goal is for you to work up to wearing them all day, every day. Go at your own pace. Some people are able to wear them all the time from the start. The world will seem alive with many new and seemingly strange sounds. Because your hearing has not been functioning normally for some time, every day sounds that other people take for granted may seem unnatural at first. Relax; over time those sounds will sound natural again. Your own voice will likely sound strange to you at first as well. This is because the microphones are picking your voice up. This also will sound much better to you after a few days. Your hearing aids will amplify both the sounds you want to hear, and some sounds you may prefer not to hear. This may be annoying at first. With experience wearing them, your brain will automatically begin to “tune out” sounds that are not important. This adjustment to the sound depends on you wearing the hearing aids very consistently. The only way for you to be successful with your hearing aids is to wear them every day, even if you feel like there is nothing important to listen to that day. There is sound around us all the time, and the only way for your hearing aids to sound natural is for your brain to hear this amplified sound on a daily basis. If you wear them consistently, you will automatically adapt to the new way of hearing, and you won’t even have to think about it!
Caring for Your Hearing Aids: The most important thing about maintaining your hearing aids is to clean them every day! Use a soft dry tissue or soft cloth and wipe them down every day. Clean the sound ports every day by brushing or picking with the tool provided. Disconnect the battery when not wearing the hearing aids. Keep your hearing aids dry. Most people do not sleep in them. Do not expose the hearing aids to extreme heat. Keep the hearing aids in a certain place in your home to reduce chances of losing them. Dogs love to chew on hearing aids. Modern hearing aids have a wax filter that will need to be changed periodically. This filter will be provided for you, ask if you need some more.
Please Ask Questions: Feel free to ask questions. We want to help you be successful with this important investment. The better you understand your hearing aids and their benefits and limitations, the more successful you will be. Remember, office visits are included as part of the service on the hearing aids, but please call ahead and make an appointment. You can call and ask for Lori (256)329-1114. Sometimes you will need to leave a message. Please be sure to leave a message and Lori will call you back as soon as she can.