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All Posts Tagged: hearing aids

Why should I get a hearing exam?

What you don’t know can hurt you and your future. To understand why, let’s look at the process of human hearing. Sounds are mechanical vibrations carried through air and mass. Most sounds enter our ear canals and vibrate our eardrums. The eardrum transmits the vibrations through the middle ear over the three smallest bones in our body. These are the malleus, incus, and stapes. In school, you may have called them the hammer, anvil, and stirrup. The three bones then vibrate the inner ear called the cochlea.

Anything that interrupts that flow of vibrations is called a conductive hearing loss. These interruptions can be as simple as wax blockage or fluid in the middle ear. They can also be caused by more serious health issues. Sometimes, we can treat and correct these problems medically.

When the vibrations arrive at the cochlea (a snail-shaped tube of small hairs in fluid), they are turned into electrical impulses and sent to the brain for translation and interpretation. If the cochlea is damaged from exposure to loud noises, genetics, illness, or other issues, it loses its ability to transmit the signal to the brain properly. This is called a sensorineural hearing loss. This type of hearing loss cannot be medically treated. However, it can be treated by compensating for the loss by replacing the signals that are diminished.

Here is the KEY to keeping your ability to hear, understand, and enjoy your relationships, entertainment, and life: You must keep the flow of sound coming to your brain at the correct levels.

From the description of the process of hearing, we see that there are two components that make up your ability to have normal hearing. First is the ability of the ear to receive and send the correct signals to your brain. Second is the ability of the brain to receive, translate, and interpret those signals in real time. If the flow of sound is diminished for any reason, then the brain becomes starved for those signals. Over a period of time, it may lose its ability to translate and interpret correctly. This means it may be unable to recognize the meaning of the sounds or unable to keep up with speech dialog. Delayed treatment of hearing loss can cause serious damage to the brain’s ability to function normally in understanding speech. The longer the delay, the greater the possibility of damage. That is the reason we recommend a hearing screening or exam.

Even if you don’t suspect having a hearing loss, getting a hearing exam baseline is important for other reasons. It becomes your legal medical record and establishes a history in the event that you were to suffer an accident or illness that may damage your hearing. If, following such an accident or illness, you found yourself in litigation, you would have proof that your condition was not pre-existing.

What you don’t know can hurt you, but you can avoid that pain with a simple exam! Get your baseline hearing exam, follow it with annual hearing screenings, and take control of your future ability to hear and understand.

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How do Hearing Instruments Help?

Eyes and ears are different, yet similar. In simple terms, the difference is what they interpret. The similarity is how they transmit and process the signals interpreted. Eyes are designed to receive visual signals that are shaped by light. The light signal is transmitted through the eyeball to the retina. There it is translated into an electrical signal and sent through the optic nerve to the brain stem and channeled to the brain. The brain is where the electrical signals are interpreted. We simply call this process “sight”.

The ear is different in that it receives (catches) sound waves. Sound waves are mechanical vibrations that enter the ear canal and vibrate the eardrum. The eardrum then transmits the vibrations through the middle ear by three tiny bones (the incus, malleus, and stapes) to the inner ear called the cochlea. The cochlea is vibrated, and about 50 thousand tiny hairs in a bed of fluid are stimulated generating electrical signals. These are transmitted through the acoustic nerve to the brain stem. From there, they are sent to the brain where the signals are interpreted.

The mediums for these two senses are images and sound, but the transmissions for both are changed to electrical energy that the brain interprets. The reason glasses or contacts work is that they change the signal the brain receives for clarity. The brain doesn’t care if it is your eyes or your eyes combined with glasses sending the signals. It just wants the correct signal. The same is true of your hearing. The brain doesn’t care if it is just your ears or your ears and a hearing instrument; it is looking for the necessary signal to bring clarity.

Another difference between your eyes and ears is the number of different environments they encounter. Your eyes deal with two main environments- light and dark. Your ears encounter thousands of different environments each day. Just sitting on your couch watching TV, your ears may pass through hundreds of changing sound environments without ever leaving the room. No matter the number of environments, if you give your eyes and ears the right signals, you get clarity. It’s really all about getting the correct signal to the brain.

What happens to many when they begin to have trouble with their vision or hearing is the degradation of the eyes or ears ability to send the correct signals to the brain. This can happen for a variety of reasons, but may go unnoticed because it occurs gradually rather than all at once. Unless you’ve suffered a sudden major hearing loss, your decreased abilities may become your assumed norm as the changes go on undetected.

To correct this, hearing instruments are programmed with your personal settings (Rx). This gives you back what you are missing just like glasses or contacts adjust the signals from your eyes to your individual needs. The biggest challenge for hearing instruments is noise and how it’s handled. That is why there are many different technologies available. The greater the amount of noise and the more environments you are in on a regular basis increase the technology required to help you.

The best hearing professionals follow the protocols of auditory rehabilitation. It should never be about buying something. It should be all about correcting your brain’s ability to understand speech. This should be done in steps so your brain can acclimate with each step toward what you need. This is similar to strengthening any other part of your body. If you haven’t exercised in a very long time, you can’t just immediately run 10 miles. You have to acclimate your body to running again by starting with shorter distances and gradually making increases. Additionally, verification of improvement and adjustments must be made regularly to reach the optimum goal for each patient. If your improvement plateaus, it may be possible to change technologies so you can continue reaching higher levels of speech understanding.

Hearing loss is a disability that for most can be successfully corrected and maintained for the rest of their lives. Delayed treatment can have adverse effects on your health physically and emotionally. Plus, some of your loss can become irreversible over time. Early detection and correction can save your ability to understand and enjoy life!

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Why are hearing aids so expensive?

Why do hearing aid costs seem so high, and how do I get the best buy?

There are several reasons hearing aid costs seem high. I will try to shed some light on the cost versus value for correcting your hearing. I will discuss 3 distinct areas to help bring some perspective.

1st. When Medicare was being formed, the American Medical Association partnered with Congress to developing the strategies and defining benefits for the Medicare system. Although your dentist, chiropractor, optometrist, and audiologist may have the title of Doctor in their field, the AMA and Congress eliminated these professions because they were not part of the AMA or physicians. So, as Americans, we can get some exotic surgeries, but not help for our eyes, ears, and teeth because they are not part of the AMA who controlled Congress. There are some attempting to add these benefits to Medicare, but at best it is a long way off because of current funding from the federal government. Unfortunately, the current environment is more about cutting than adding.

2nd. Research and Development or R&D for short is another reason hearing aid prices seem high. With the advent of the digital age in audiology, the manufacturing cost to design a new hearing aid from concept to market runs between $85 million and $200 million. There are really only six major manufacturers in the world. They operate under different name plates with digital chips and software production. The other manufactures are actually just assemblers. There used to be thousands of manufacturers across the world, but the cost of business and R&D became too much for most. The FDA requirements for approval of new technology are burdensome, time consuming by years, and extremely expensive. What that means for you and me is that technology is fantastic and growing, but for that to continue, the cost of development and approval has to be met or no one will invest in the R&D. This is a much larger subject than I can present here, but hopefully you get an idea on the expense side for the manufacturers.

3rd. Your professional and their practice. Hopefully, you have a professional working with you on your hearing health and not just a person or box store selling hearing aids. Hearing is not a commodity you just buy. That approach is usually unsuccessful at best and has been a major reason why only 20% of those needing to correct their hearing are doing so. That means 80% of the people who need help don’t seek it, and they and their love ones suffer the silent pain of hearing loss in their lives! Those 80% often don’t recognize the damage untreated hearing loss is causing them and those close to them.

There are two main reasons that it is extremely seldom that just buying a hearing aid without further care will work for the purchaser. First, it’s not just about the ears. It’s also about the brain and the signal you are sending it. Have you ever put someone else’s glasses on and tried to see clearly? How did that work for you? It was most likely blurry, right? Just like you need an individual prescription for your eyeglasses, you need your individual prescription for your ears. Plus, since hearing ability is often lost gradually and people don’t often take steps to correct it for many years, over time your brain forgets some of the signals that it used to receive from your ears. Getting it all back at once can be uncomfortable and unproductive because your brain can no longer process those signals. To make regaining your hearing ability more effective, rehabilitation is the next step. This usually takes 3 to 6 weeks of working with your hearing professional to gradually work up to your full prescription. It’s not just about hearing more sounds, that’s easy. It’s about processing the signals and your ability to understand speech in quiet and noise. That requires a quality professional trained in aural rehab to help you recover as much as possible.

The second reason just purchasing a hearing aid from a big box store isn’t a quality option is that most hearing professionals practice bundling services. That means the cost of the hearing instrument you selected, the professional fees for the exam, the fitting, fitting rehab follow-ups, and quarterly check-ups and wax management are factored in, and that determines the bundled price. Usually, a bundled price is based upon 5 years of service. This way, you have a hard figure of your total expenditure and can budget accordingly. The hearing professional assumes some risk, but doesn’t have to constantly bill for every service rendered.

Some practices are beginning to unbundle the prices to present a lower hearing aid price to appear more competitive. Lower prices sound great, but the ongoing care you will be losing can very negatively affect your success rate. When you just buy a hearing aid and only visit a hearing professional when you feel like something is wrong, you will often find excuses not to visit your professional for the fitting rehab follow-ups and quarterly check-ups you need to have the most beneficial results. We all do it. Life gets busy, and we put things off. But just like you can’t tell what your blood pressure is without a test, you can’t tell what your hearing and understanding level is without your hearing professional.

So, how can you reduce the cost of your hearing instruments and still get what you need? Ask your hearing professional for their recommendation. Listen to them and ask questions. They are there to help you. Current technology is doubling about every year, but that doesn’t mean you need the latest and greatest available. Usually, you can go back about two generations of technology and still meet your needs effectively. For manufacturers, once they cover their R&D cost the product cost greatly reduces when the next greatest thing becomes available. So ask about those options. If you have a need but don’t have the budget, something is better than nothing. Your brain needs the help, and the old saying “if you don’t use it, you will lose it” is true in hearing. So start where you can. If your hearing professional refuses to help you in your journey, LEAVE. It’s not where you start but how soon and progressing toward the final destination of hearing your best that matters

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