Can Your Hearing Aids do it All?

Hearing aids have come a long way since the bulky devices of decades past. They’re smaller, more discreet, technologically advanced powerhouses whose functionality goes far beyond improving how people hear. Today’s hearing aids significantly enhance the quality of life for those with hearing loss, improving their physical health and mental well-being, and bringing new efficiencies to their everyday lives.

But not all hearing aids are equal. If you’re looking for a solution to your hearing loss and a more natural hearing experience, understanding the current options available will help you get the devices that can do it all. Otherwise, you may wind up with solutions that provide you with only partial hearing treatment at best, or cause further damage to your hearing at worst.

Features of modern hearing aids
When considering hearing aids, you’ll want devices that leverage the latest technology to not just enhance how you hear but improve how you live, delivering the sound that nature intended. For instance, when hearing aids can connect to your smartphone, you can unlock the full potential of your hearing aids to ensure the best performance no matter the situation by adjusting the volume and settings discreetly from an app. Advanced, modern hearing aids can even make your own voice sound more natural.

Connected hearing aids can also enhance how you go about daily activities, like listening to music, watching TV, and talking on the phone. Leveraging Bluetooth®, you can stream music and TV directly to your hearing aids, avoiding the need to turn up the volume in order to hear clearly. And when using your phone, you can hear the other person through your hearing aids as well.

When it comes to connectivity, it doesn’t stop at linking to other devices. It’s just as important that your hearing aids connect to each other for true binaural hearing. Your ears naturally work together to localize sounds, focus on speech, and combine different information from both ears for central perception. With wirelessly linked, binaurally fitted hearing aids, the two devices communicate with each other, replicating the way you naturally receive sound through both ears and sharing that information to ensure you hear what’s important. In fact, in very challenging and noisy situations like busy restaurants, some binaurally fit hearing aids can even help wearers outperform normal hearing listeners by focusing on the target speaker and suppressing all other noise.

The emergence of hearables and OTC hearing aids
While the right pair of hearing aids can do it all, a growing number of consumer electronics companies are rushing to enter the hearing technology space with new gadgets to help you hear. Known as “hearables,” these devices are essentially earbuds with the ability to amplify sound. While they may be easy to buy and affordable, there are many risks in using such devices. Hearing aids, built upon decades of research and continually improved over the years, are classified as medical devices and thus regulated by the FDA. Meanwhile, many of the companies offering hearables start with their own headphones and earbuds and add sound amplification without following FDA guidelines for hearing aids.

The danger of such devices lies in the fact that they don’t have the medical basis to treat hearing loss. Every patient’s level of hearing loss and listening needs are different. Hearing loss can also be a manifestation of other serious medical conditions. This is why it should be managed and treated by hearing care professionals who can prescribe personalized hearing aid solutions, monitor your usage, and ensure they keep working properly. On the other hand, there is no professional medical support when using hearables. While they may look sleek and stylish, they aren’t a reliable solution to hearing loss, and have the potential to cause harm by over-amplifying sounds, or delay the detection of any potential underlying diseases.

It’s not just fancy new technologies that can pose a risk to consumers. Passage of the Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act of 2017 has paved the way for manufacturers to develop OTC hearing aids for people with mild-to-moderate hearing loss. Though such devices will need to meet FDA regulations for safety, consumer labeling, and manufacturing protection, patients do not need a medical evaluation in order to obtain them. As a result, people may be tempted to self-diagnose their hearing loss and purchase a product that isn’t actually the right solution for their unique condition.

The developers behind hearables and OTC hearing aids aim to provide a cheaper way to treat hearing loss. However, they don’t tell you what you’re not getting. When you purchase hearing aids the traditional way, you get so much more than just the devices. HCPs typically offer bundled packages that include medical evaluations, follow-up visits for adjustments, and accessories in addition to the hearing aids themselves, all factored into the price from the beginning. Without the support and expertise of a HCP, the use of other hearing devices can eventually catch up and cost you even more in future treatment.

Finding the best hearing aids for you
Modern hearing aids aren’t designed to merely make sounds louder. They’re carefully calibrated devices that help you better hear more naturally in any situation, including your own voice, by highlighting what you want to hear and filtering voices from background noise. Combined with a high degree of personalization and connectivity with other devices, hearing aids not only help you hear, but improve your quality of life. Given the choice between new yet untested technology that may do more harm than good, or hearing aids that already have it all (including the ongoing support of a licensed professional), the decision should be an easy one.

Carol Meyers Carol Meyers With more than 25 years of clinical practice, Carol Meyers, Au.D., is an educational specialist for Signia hearing aids, responsible for the training and education of staff and hearing care professionals in the U.S. on the company's products, technology, software, services, and audiology-related topics.
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