Maybe your family members complain that you have the TV volume turned up too loudly. Or you’re struggling to hear conversations in restaurants or on the phone. Or perhaps you notice you’re asking people to repeat themselves frequently. These problems are signs of hearing loss, and you may need a hearing aid. But how do you sort through all the options and find a hearing aid that works for you?
Jason Smith, AuD, an audiologist with Banner – University Medicine North in Tucson, AZ, has personal as well as professional experience with hearing aids—he has had hearing loss since birth and was fitted with his first hearing aids at age 4. We spoke with him for tips on how to choose the right one.
Start with a search for a provider
Dr. Smith said the top thing to consider when you’re evaluating hearing aids is finding a provider who will help you get the most benefit from them. “People ask me which manufacturers they should go with. First, you need to find a provider who you trust to take you through this journey. That’s the most important part,” he said.
To find a good local provider, ask your primary care doctor if they can refer you to an audiologist. “It’s a good idea to get referrals through trusted medical professionals,” Dr. Smith said.
Cost is a factor
Each hearing aid can cost from $900 to $3,000 or more, and, unfortunately, insurance generally doesn’t cover the cost. But you should check with your insurance company since some provide coverage up to a certain amount. And you may need to choose from approved providers to get benefits.
Your hearing tests may be covered by insurance, and if not, most places will give you a free consultation. Once they evaluate your hearing, they can provide an estimate of the cost for your hearing aids.
Dr. Smith doesn’t recommend buying hearing aids online, over the counter or in big box stores: “You might save $500 or $1,000, but you’re not getting the level of service that you would get if you went to a clinic whose sole purpose is to fit hearing aids. Hearing aids need to be fitted to your ear. Everyone’s ear canals are different.” If you decide to buy an over-the-counter hearing aid to save money, he recommends finding a local provider who will fit it appropriately for you. And be aware that some online companies won’t allow that.
Along with the cost of the hearing aids, you’ll need to pay for follow-up visits where your hearing is tested and your hearing aids are adjusted. Some places roll these costs into one fee that covers you for several years, while others may provide a certain number of visits.
When you’re considering the cost, you need to factor in the hearing aids’ lifespan. They should last for five years or more if you take good care of them.
What level of hearing loss do you have?
Your provider will test your hearing to see if you struggle to hear higher frequencies, lower frequencies or both. They will also measure your degree of hearing loss, which is typically classified as mild, moderate, severe or profound.
If you have severe or profound hearing loss, you’ll probably need a more powerful hearing aid with an earmold. That’s because earmolds give you a tight fit, so you don’t get amplified sound traveling outside your ear and making that high-pitched noise you sometimes hear with hearing aids. If you have mild to moderate hearing loss, a receiver in your ear canal will probably work for you.
You’ll also want to consider the bells and whistles that work for your budget and lifestyle. For example, some hearing aids have Bluetooth connectivity, so you can connect directly with your phone to talk, watch videos and listen to music. And with some, you can message your provider, and they can make changes to your hearing aid’s programming remotely.
Your provider can guide you to the type of hearing aid that will work best. “Your level of hearing may limit your options, but you’ll still have lots of choices of manufacturers, styles and connectivity options,” Dr. Smith said.
Commit to a solid trial with your new hearing aid
“Hearing aids are not like glasses. Your brain has to adjust. You need to wear your hearing aids all day, every day, for at least three weeks before you make any decisions about whether they are helping you or not,” Dr. Smith said. “At first, you’re probably going to hate it. But your brain will get used to it, and your audiologist will make some adjustments.” Expect to see your provider at least quarterly at first so you can get the most benefit from your hearing aids.
Keep in mind that your hearing loss has probably progressed slowly. Your hearing aids will introduce sounds you may not have heard in 10, 15 or 20 years. “The minute you introduce sound that your brain hasn’t heard, it’s going to sound awful,” Dr. Smith said. “My advice is to stick with it anyway. Know that when you’ve hit that three-to-four-week mark, you can go back to your provider and make adjustments. You want to get to the point where you can manage your life and forget about your hearing aids.”
Once you adjust to your hearing aids, you should still check in with your provider periodically to make sure they are functioning correctly. “Humans have limited ability to detect changes in volume, so it’s a good idea to have those regular hearing and hearing aid checks to ensure maximum benefit,” Dr. Smith said.
The bottom line
If you need hearing aids, you’ll want to consider the cost, find a provider who can guide you through your options and give yourself time to learn how to use them. To connect with an expert on hearing loss, reach out to Banner Health.