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How can I recognize hearing problems?
Most of the time, hearing problems begin gradually, without discomfort or pain. What's more, family members often learn to adapt to someone's hearing loss, without even realizing they are doing it. Here are some questions to ask yourself to determine whether hearing loss is present:
Do I often ask people to repeat themselves?
Do I have trouble following conversations with more than two people?
Do I have difficulty hearing what is said unless I'm facing the speaker?
Does it sound like other people are mumbling or slurring their words?
Do I struggle to hear in crowded places like restaurants, malls and meeting rooms?
Do I have a hard time hearing women or children?
Do I prefer the TV or radio volume louder than others?
Do I experience ringing or buzzing in my ears?
If you answered yes to several of these questions, chances are you do suffer from hearing loss.
If I had hearing loss, wouldn't my doctor have told me?
Not necessarily. Only about 13% of physicians routinely screen for hearing loss. Since most people with hearing impairments hear just fine in quiet environments (like your doctor's office), it can be very difficult for your physician to recognize this problem. Only a trained hearing professional can determine the severity of your hearing problem, whether or not you could benefit from a hearing instrument, and which type would be best for you.
What are the most common causes of hearing loss?
There are several causes. The main ones include genetics, excessive noise, infections, birth defects, infections to the ear or head, aging, and reaction to drugs or cancer treatment.
Are there different types of hearing loss?
Yes. There are three types of hearing loss:
Sensorineural: The most common type, it occurs when the inner ear nerves (and hair cells) are damaged and do not properly transmit auditory signals to the brain. Can be treated with hearing instruments.
Conductive: Is typically the result of obstructions in the ear. Can usually be treated medically or surgically.
Mixed: A combination of sensorineural and conductive.
Are there operations or medications I can take for hearing loss?
Only 5% of hearing loss in adults can be improved medically or surgically. The vast majority of Americans with hearing loss (95%) are treated with hearing instruments.
Who treats hearing loss?
Audiologists are professionals with a master's degree, Au.D. or Ph.D. in audiology, the study of hearing. They specialize in testing, evaluating and treating hearing loss. An audiologist may also fit hearing instruments.
Hearing instrument dispensers are state-licensed to fit consumers with hearing instruments but do not need an advanced degree to do so.
Otolaryngologists (ear, nose and throat specialists) are physicians that specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of ear, nose, throat, head, and neck disorders.
Otologists are specialized physicians who treat disorders of the ear and its related systems.
If I think I have a hearing problem, what do I do?
You should make an appointment with an audiologist for an evaluation, consultation and hearing test. If the audiologist finds a medical problem during the assessment, he/she will refer you to an otologist or ENT physician.
How will a hearing instrument improve my quality of life?
Receiving treatment for hearing loss can literally transform your life. Research on people with hearing loss and their significant others has shown that hearing instruments play a significant factor in a person's social, emotional, psychological, and physical well-being. More specifically, treatment of hearing loss has been shown to improve:
Communication in relationships
Intimacy and warmth in family relationships
Ease in communication
Sense of control over your life
Perception of mental functioning
When you consider all the benefits of better hearing, you can see that hearing instruments hold great potential to positively change your life.
Won't wearing a hearing instrument make me look old or handicapped?
While you are no doubt concerned about appearance, compensating for a hearing loss by asking people to repeat themselves, inappropriately responding, not responding at all to people talking, or even withdrawing from social situations is more obvious than wearing a hearing instrument. Today's hearing instruments are small, discreet and more stylish than ever before. Some are even invisible! Keep in mind that hairstyle and the color of the hearing instrument plays a role in the appearance. And, chances are that once you have a hearing instrument, your quality of life will improve so much that cosmetics won't be as much of an issue for you.
Will a hearing instrument restore my hearing?
While no hearing instrument can restore your hearing to normal, hearing instruments are designed to let you hear soft sounds that you couldn't hear before, and prevent loud sounds from becoming uncomfortably loud for you. They are also designed to improve your ability to understand speech in most environments.
Will I be able to hear in noisy places?
While no hearing instrument can filter out all background noise, current hearing instruments are designed to reduce some types of background noise so that you can enjoy conversation and improve communication in places like restaurants, business meetings and social gatherings.
What are the different types and styles of hearing instruments?
Today's digital hearing instruments come in a wide variety of sizes and style. Some are very small and sit behind the ear with a tiny wire that inserts into the ear canal. Others fit inside the ear canal completely while others fit snuggly inside the outer ear. They are all much smaller, more comfortable and more discreet than models produced even a few years ago. Most hearing instruments come in a variety of colors to blend with your skin tone and hair color.
How do I know which hearing instrument will be best for me?
There are several factors that will determine which hearing instrument will be the right one for you. They include the nature and severity of your hearing loss, your lifestyle, your job, your eyesight and dexterity, and the size and shape of your outer ear and inner ear canal. Hearing instruments feature different technology levels to match your specific hearing loss, your specific needs and your budget. Ultimately, your hearing professional will be able to advise you as to the best choice for you.
What are some advances in hearing instrument technology?
Like many other high-tech devices (TVs, phones, computers), hearing instruments have experienced a major technological revolution in the past decade and especially in the last couple years. These advances have made a huge impact in hearing instrument performance and wearer satisfaction. The best of today's digital hearing instruments are designed to adjust automatically when you move from one environment to another, significantly reduce feedback (whistling), provide more “natural” sound quality, make listening in noisy environments easier and more comfortable, stream stereo sound from TVs and telephones directly to the hearing instrument itself (Bluetooth), and even tell you when to change the battery. All instruments are smaller, more comfortable and powerful than ever before.
Is there an adjustment period to wearing hearing instruments?
Yes. Most people need an adjustment period to allow the brain to acclimate to sound again and receive full benefit from their hearing instrument. All hearing instruments are fitted for a 30-day adjustment period to allow for the person to “re-learn” to hear and use their hearing instrument effectively. Most patients notice demonstrable benefits right away.
Will I need a hearing instrument for both ears?
Research consistently shows that two-ear hearing (called "binaural") is better than one. If you have hearing loss in only one ear, then one hearing instrument would most likely be recommended. Age- and noise-related hearing loss tend to affect both ears, but your hearing profile for each ear is probably different. If there is a loss in both ears, you will most likely benefit more with a binaural solution. Today, about two-thirds of new users opt for dual hearing instruments, and as a group they report a higher level of satisfaction than purchasers of a single hearing instrument.
How much will a hearing instrument cost?
The price of a hearing instrument will vary depending on the specific model and features you need. There is a wide range of hearing instrument options and prices. They typically will range from $1000 to $3500 per ear. Some insurance plans include hearing instrument coverage. Hearing instrument financing is also available.
What about the inexpensive hearing instruments I see advertised?
These inexpensive models are simply hearing amplifiers that will make everything louder (including all the ambient noises around you). They will not, for example, separate human voices from background noises, or hear directional sounds like today's more sophisticated hearing instruments are designed to do. It is important that you understand your loss and get a hearing instrument that addresses your specific needs.
Is there a warranty with hearing instruments?
Yes. Most hearing instruments have a 2-year warranty for repair and a 1-year warranty for loss.
Excerpts from www.betterhearing.org and www.starkey.com.