How to choose hearing aids: The Hearing Choices Buyer’s Guide 2023
Buying hearing aids is a journey. And like any trip you take, you need to do your research, prepare a list of what you want, check out the reviews, then begin your journey. This journey will start with a hearing test and end with finding the right hearing aid. Once you’re on your way, you’ll want to ensure you make the most of the adventure.
And it is an adventure. Choosing, and then buying a hearing aid is a big decision and not one people come to easily. Hearing aids did have a lot of stigma attached to them. Now, thanks to technology and a much better understanding of why optimising your hearing keeps you in touch and healthy, more people are getting hearing aids sooner rather than later.
Determining if you have a hearing loss
You may or may not be aware that your hearing levels have deteriorated. Everyone has difficulty hearing in some situations – yes, this is true. Hearing in noisy environments, in the car, when someone talks to you from another room, can all be difficult for people with good hearing. But when people around you notice that you are mishearing things, or asking for repeats more than usual, there could be something going on with your hearing. It’s usually those around us that notice changes in our communication ability, and that’s because changes in your hearing levels will be affecting them too.
Are you missing out?
You tell yourself that if there’s no background noise you hear fine. You have great conversations when it’s just you and one or two others in a quiet room. But when you’re at the local bar, or in large meeting and there’s lots of extraneous noise, then problems occur.
Perhaps you catch some of the words, or part of them, but some seem to disappear into the room’s ambiance. If you’ve lost a bit of hearing in the high pitch range, (which is where hearing first tends to be affected), soft speech sounds often get lost when there’s background noise. These soft high frequency sounds give words definition and clarity; they often occur at the beginnings and ends of words so can easily disappear in noisy environments. Is this happening to you? Perhaps it’s time to get your hearing checked to see if any of your hearing has deteriorated.
Have your hearing levels dropped?
Only a proper hearing test, performed by a trained Audiologist or Audiometrist will be able to give you a realistic view of your hearing levels. A hearing test involves a number of steps and assessment procedures to find out your threshold of hearing (the softest sounds you can hear). The results gained from your hearing test will be plotted on an audiogram and compared to normative values. Hearing is measured in decibel (dB) levels across the main frequencies (Hz) we use to hear speech. If your hearing falls outside the normal range (0dB – 20dB), your hearing levels are said to have dropped.
You can learn more about hearing loss by clicking this link.
Mild hearing loss:
- Symptoms: Ok in one on one conversation but have some difficulty in background noise
- Hearing Threshold Level: 26 - 40 dB
- Hearing Aids: May be of assistance
Moderate hearing loss:
- Symptoms: Asking people to repeat themselves during conversations, especially bad with background noise.
- Hearing Threshold: 41 – 55 dB
- Hearing Aids: Very helpful and strongly recommended.
Severe Hearing Loss:
- Symptoms: Can’t hear conversation without hearing aids. .
- Hearing Threshold: 70 - 90 dB
- Hearing Aids: May require a super-powered hearing aid to get benefit.
Profound Hearing Loss:
- Symptoms: Will have trouble even with hearing aids.
- Hearing Threshold: 71 - 90 dB
- Hearing Aids: May require a cochlear implant.
Will a hearing aid optimise my hearing levels?
Depending on how far below 20dB and at what frequencies your hearing has been affected, will determine if a hearing aid will be of use to you. Talk to the person who carried out the test – they will be able to explain how far your hearing levels have dropped and if a hearing aid will optimise your hearing.
First and foremost, a hearing aid is an amplification device. If your hearing has deteriorated usually some form of amplification will help improve the sound quality of your hearing. But not all hearing aids are the same. There are many different types and styles but it’s important to know that if you decide to trial a hearing aid, it will be prescribed to your personal hearing levels. If your hearing levels have dropped, even to what is called a mild level, there’s probably a hearing device that will assist you to optimise your hearing and communication.
Knowing what type of hearing loss and how much your hearing levels have dropped will help you and your Audiologist select the best hearing aid for you. People with less complex communication needs may need lower technology levels compared to the hearing aid required for someone who has more complex communication needs and/or a more severe hearing loss. Some people have complex communication requirements and may need additional features in their hearing aid.
This could include directional microphones, Telecoil, remote control, improved noise reduction features or even another assistive listening device, such as a remote microphone or TV streamer.
Choosing a Hearing Service Provider
There are a number of terms used to describe the person who tests your hearing and fits your hearing aid – and these can vary across the world.
In Australia, the most common terms you will hear are Audiologist and Audiometrist. You may also see the terms Hearing Healthcare Professional, Hearing Care Professional, Hearing Specialist or Clinician.
At your hearing assessment appointment the Audiologist will ask you a series of questions about your hearing health, your medical history and the situations where you’re having communication difficulties. They will then look in your ears with an otoscope to check your ear canals are clear. If wax removal is required, they’ll let you know. Once your ears are deemed clear, the hearing test can begin.
The hearing test will follow a set protocol for most clinics and generally include a middle ear test, an audiometry assessment, a speech test and discussion of your results. Once this has been completed your Audiologist should discuss your options with you. Depending on the results of your hearing assessment, these could include:
- Hearing within normal limits – retest your hearing every 12 months (just like you do with your vision checks).
- Referral back to your doctor - if a medical issue has been detected and treatment and/or further testing is required.
- Rehabilitation options if a hearing loss has been detected (that can’t be medically treated) - a hearing device is recommended.
You can view a list of clinics around Australia here.
Types of hearing aids
There are many types of hearing aids. When purchasing a hearing aid you need to consider a number of factors including brand, style and cost. It’s important to know what’s compatible with your hearing levels, ear shape, lifestyle and finances.
Some Hearing Clinics only fit one or two brands of hearing aids so if you have a particular brand in mind, check with the clinic beforehand they offer what you’re after.
You can rely on your Audiologist to make a recommendation for you, however to ensure you are fitted with a device you’re comfortable with, do your research to give yourself a bit of knowledge. Before you choose your hearing aid, your Audiologist will want to know about certain parameters that will guide you both to the best hearing aid for you.
We explore more about the types of hearing aids in this article.
Your hearing and lifestyle needs
Your Audiologist will want to discuss with you your hearing levels and how they may be affecting your communication and your day to day living. They will ask you certain things about your lifestyle. This is to determine the selection of your new hearing aid will suit all your communication requirements. The choice of your hearing aids will depend on a number of factors, including:
- your hearing levels
- any physical limitations you may have
- financial considerations
- if you use a smartphone for phone calls
- if you want to utilise Bluetooth for streaming music and other audio
- if you have tinnitus
- do you need a custom earmold
- the style of hearing aid you would like
- If you want a hearing aid with a rechargeable battery
Read this article about further information on Hearing Aid Technology.
Hearing Aid Styles
Many people still think hearing aids are big cumbersome devices. We certainly have moved past the old ear trumpets and it’s rare these days to see a body aid (but they are still available if requested). And yes, the type of hearing aid that sits behind the ear is much smaller now, even the more powerful ones. There are many categories of styles to take into consideration when investigating hearing aids.
- Behind-the-Ear (BTE) hearing aid – the main part of the hearing aid sits behind the ear. BTEs are the most familiar style of hearing device with all components cased in a piece that sits behind the ear and an ear mould (custom or dome piece), which carries the sound into your ear canal. BTEs are the most powerful hearing aids and are appropriate for all levels of hearing.
- Receiver-in-Canal (RIC) hearing aid - this style has a small device behind the ear with an ultra-thin tube carrying a wire to a small plug (dome or earmold) in your ear, which is where the receiver is situated. A custom mould tip can be made if required.
- In-the-Ear (ITE) hearing aids - a custom made hearing aid, where a hearing professional takes an impression of your ear. Being the largest inside the ear style it will accommodate hearing losses up to the severe range. The ITE is easier to handle for those with dexterity issues.
- In-the-Canal (ITC) hearing aids - a smaller version of the ITE, offering a more discreet hearing aid style, with a smaller portion of the hearing aid visible in the outer part of your ear.
- Completely-in-the-Canal (CIC) hearing aids - hidden completely in the canal, this tiny device is barely visible. Each CIC has a tiny removal handle made from thin fishing wire to allow for easy removal.
- Invisible-in-the-Canal (IIC) are hidden deep in the ear canal. These are custom made hearing devices, and for most, this means a very deep impression of your ear is required. Like the CIC, they too have an invisible wire for ease of removal.
- Extended wear IIC – an extended wear invisible hearing aid that does not require an impression. A thorough inspection of the ear canal with a high magnification device is required to determine where the hearing aid should sit deep and comfortably in your ear canal. As no impression is required of the ear canal, it can be fitted once your ear has been determined as acceptable for this style of aid (at present only Phonak has these types of devices). Once the extended wear IIC has been inserted, it will be programmed for your hearing levels. This IIC can be worn for many months before it needs to be changed for a new one.
Hearing Aid Prices
When choosing the right hearing aid you need to consider how much you want to pay. You may have complex listening needs but limited finances. You may be a first-time hearing aid user and unsure of your requirements. Or you may have been wearing hearing aids for many years, know what you need and don’t require a lot of follow-up service from your Audiologist. All of these factors will impact on the technology required in your hearing aid and your budget. The style of your hearing aid can also effect the cost. The most advanced technology is generally found in the hearing aid styles that fit behind the ear – either a BTE or RIC. This is because there is more room to fit extra features in these hearing aids. Smaller, more invisible hearing aids, may offer alternative technology features and costs.
Understanding how hearing aid technology affects the price of hearing aids, as well as what you get included in the price of the device, (you want to make sure this includes a trial period) is important. Most hearing aid manufacturers, when introducing their latest technology, offer three technology tiers. The highest level of technology comes with the higher price tag – for good reason.
Buying Your Hearing Aid - The Hearing Choices Buyer’s Guide 2023
Once you've decided on the best solution to optimise your hearing, it's time to ensure you get the best deal for your choice. You'll want to know what the cost of the hearing aid includes, (e.g. device, batteries, after-care and follow-up services, warranty, etc.), if your health insurance company will cover part of the cost or if you're eligible for the government Hearing Services Program. There’s so much to consider!
That’s why Hearing Choices has created a Buyer’s Guide to help you to find the right solution for your hearing needs. We’ve assisted many people to choose the right hearing aids and get started on the road to better hearing.
The Buyer’s Guide will take you through, step by step, all the important checkpoints of purchasing a hearing aid that will improve your communication, keep you connected to loved ones, and assist with your cognitive health. Choosing hearing aids is more complex than selecting your glasses, but it is just as imperative to your well-being. Taking out the guesswork, and not allowing a Hearing Care Professional to make all the decisions for you, will give you a better understanding of not only what hearing aid you’ve purchased, but why and how a hearing aid will improve your life. Essentially that should be your aim.
Just think how choosing the right hearing aid will improve your life – it’s a good thought, and the right place to begin.