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Hearing Aids for Severe Hearing Loss: Everything You Need to Know

By Jon McKenna
Medically Reviewed by Sara Burdak, AuD on February 10, 2021
Newer options make your hearing aid less obvious without sacrificing the volume you need to hear well.

If your hearing loss is diagnosed as severe or profound, you may worry you’ll have to wear bulky hearing aids. However, smaller options have been developed, making your hearing aid much less obvious but just as effective, Dave Fabry, AuD, chief innovation officer at Starkey in Eden Prairie, Minn., tells WebMD Connect to Care.

What is Severe Hearing Loss?

Severe and profound hearing loss are the most serious of the Hearing Health Foundation’s levels of hearing loss.

  • Severe hearing loss — Someone with severe hearing loss cannot hear speech at normal levels, often cannot hear loud sounds, and often relies on facial expressions and other visual cues.
  • Profound hearing loss— Profound hearing loss is also considered deafness. Speech is inaudible at this level, and you may not be able to hear extremely loud sounds, like fire alarms.

How Hearing Aids May Help

“The difficulty with severe to profound hearing loss is the gain in volume you need to hear sounds,” Cynthia Hogan, AuD, director of the hearing aid program at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., tells WebMD Connect to Care. When you have to increase the volume on your hearing aid significantly, the sound may travel back to your hearing aid’s microphone, Hogan says. This audio feedback loop can cause a ringing or whistling sound that further interferes with your hearing.

Traditionally, the answer to that problem was a behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aid. The receiver and microphone on these devices are separate, and an ear mold seals off your ear canal to control where sound is directed. Fabry says this design helped provide a high level of volume without causing feedback sounds.

An audiologist may recommend a behind-the-ear hearing aid if you have severe or profound hearing loss. However, “the good news is there are many more options now for people at these levels of hearing loss than 10 to 15 years ago,” Paul Kileny, AuD, director of the audiology program at the University of Michigan Medical School, tells WebMD Connect to Care.

Receiver-in-canal (RIC) hearing aids have a microphone and amplifier built into a piece that rests behind your ear and a wire that leads to a receiver inside your ear. These newer devices are sometimes called “high powered” because of their volume and battery capabilities.   

Many receiver-in-canal hearing aids are available. Kileny says most have a wide range of settings to help you hear conversations even in noisy environments. Other features include connectivity to your smartphone and rechargeable batteries.

It’s a good idea to let your audiologist program your receiver-in-canal hearing aid first to ensure the volume isn’t set so high that it could damage your hearing further, Hogan says. 

Hearing Loss Can Be Treated and Managed.

In many cases, hearing loss is a treatable condition. It is worth taking the time out to get the answers and treatment you or your loved one deserves. Don’t wait. Start today.