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Hearing Aids Work, but Only if You Do

Consumer Reports: Hearing Aid Is Only Part of Hearing Restoration Process
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

June 1, 2009 -- If you've heard that hearing aids don't work, you've heard wrong.

But you've also heard wrong if you think the answer to hearing loss is simply sticking a hearing aid in your ear, an in-depth study by Consumer Reports shows.

The study had three components. Consumer Reports followed 12 people with hearing loss for six months as they shopped for and used their hearing aids. It conducted a national survey of 1,100 people who bought a hearing aid in the last three years and lab-tested 44 different hearing aids.

The bottom line: If you suffer hearing loss, the brand of hearing aid you select is far less important than the process of hearing restoration, says Consumer Reports Senior Editor Tobie Stanger, who directed the hearing aid report.

"The reason so many hearing aids end up in drawers is people don't understand the adapting you need to do to get the most out of them," Stanger tells WebMD. "Expectations have to be tempered. Hearing aids aren't like glasses. You can't suddenly put them on and hear as you did before. The brain has to adapt."

"People who lose the ability to hear quiet sounds expect a hearing aid will fix that, and they are disappointed," speech and hearing scientist Arthur Boothroyd, PhD, tells WebMD. "They think that if they just get a better hearing aid it will address this problem. But part of the process is learning that a hearing aid will help but will not restore normal hearing."

Hearing Loss Treatment

The "process" of hearing rehabilitation has several elements:

  • Having a doctor diagnose the cause of your hearing loss
  • Getting your hearing tested
  • Getting the right hearing aid
  • Getting your hearing aid fitted properly
  • Testing your hearing aid in real-life situations
  • Practice, practice, practice
  • Follow-up visits with your hearing-loss professional

People who saw an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat doctor) reported the most satisfaction with their care, except for veterans, who reported excellent care through Veterans Affairs facilities. Stanger warns that not all otolaryngologists specialize in hearing rehabilitation. She recommends seeing one that works in partnership with an audiologist, a hearing professional.

"There are all kinds of different causes of hearing loss: It could be earwax, it could be an ear infection, or something more serious than hearing loss caused by dying of hair cells in the ear canal, which is the cause of most age-related hearing loss," Stanger says. "That is the reason why it's important to go to a medical doctor first to find out what really is the cause of your hearing loss."

But once you know your hearing loss isn't due to a treatable condition, you have other options. Just under one in five people surveyed by Consumer Reports went to a name-brand hearing aid store, while 30% went to independent hearing-treatment providers -- non-MD hearing professionals.

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