Back in the day, Grandpa needed a hearing aid -- war, hunting, and loud machinery had taken their toll. Most likely, his hearing aid was a big, beige "plug" in the ear. When he gave you a bear hug, you heard little whistles and buzzes.
"What many of us remember is Grandpa always fiddling with his hearing aid," says Trisha L. Dibkey, MA, CCC-A, chief audiologist at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston. "He was always turning it up and down, adjusting it so he could hear right - trying to hear whoever was talking, trying to tune out the background noise."
The term cauliflower ear refers to a deformity of the ear caused by blunt trauma or other injury, such as what may occur during a boxing or wrestling match. Left untreated, the injury leads to a blockage that prevents blood flow and damages tissue. This results in a bumpy or lumpy appearance on part of the ear, similar to a cauliflower. Early treatment can help prevent permanent deformity.
Fortunately, the types of injuries that cause cauliflower ear are often preventable by wearing the right type...
Sometimes, frustration won out - and Grandpa just gave up on the thing.
"It was very difficult to get those old hearing aids adjusted just right," says Earl Bowie, MD, an ear, nose, and throat specialist at Ochsner Clinic Foundation North Shore in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. "If there was any background noise, or if you were moving around, you would get feedback. Feedback kept many people from wearing a hearing aid."
No wonder that only one in five people who need a hearing aid actually wear one, according to the National Institutes of Health. But times have changed. Today's hearing aids offer greater style and technology options - making them better-performing, better looking, and easier to wear.
New Hearing Aids: Digital Technology and Tiny Microphones
Fast-forward to the age of digital technology. You'd never know Grandpa -- or dad, or you -- even has a hearing problem. Today's hearing aids are much smaller - "virtually invisible," Bowie says. Also, "most hearing aids today contain a microcomputer that is much more sophisticated in responding to noise in the environment, so you don't get feedback and echoes."
Like an excellent stereo sound system, these new hearing aids filter out background noise, clean up and clarify the sound quality, automatically adjust the volume. Plus, they are computer-programmed to match the nuances of each person's hearing loss. "It's like the equalizer on a radio, we can set 16 bands to match their hearing loss at every pitch," Dibkey says. "These hearing aids are tailor-made to match their hearing loss."