Getting your first hearing aid
Loss of hearing occurs for a number of reasons. Age, family history, and what kind of sound environment you’ve been exposed to.
If you’ve been having trouble hearing, have been thinking about getting a hearing aid, or can relate to any of the following, consider seeing an audiologist or otologist:
- You can hear perfectly well in quiet circumstances but find it difficult in crowds
- You have been consistently hearing a buzzing or ringing noise
- Your ears often feel ‘full’
- Your family history includes hearing loss
- You find yourself asking people to repeat themselves on a regular basis
- You listen to the radio or television at a higher volume than everyone else
If you are considering hearing aids for the first time, you will no doubt be wondering what it involves. We’ve put together a list of things you need to know if you are thinking of acquiring a hearing device:
Your first consultation
When you go to your ear specialist or Otologists with your ear concerns, expect some of these questions:
- Are there any specific situations where you have difficulty hearing?
- Do you feel any pressure in your ears?
- Have you been feeling a ringing in your ears and how often does it occur?
- Do you experience dizziness from time to time?
- What is your medical history?
Otologists recommend that you go in immediately for any hearing concerns. Even though it is one of the most common aspects of ageing and affects 1 in 6 Australians, many people will not immediately approach hearing loss like they would a sight issue. Obtaining a hearing test will help to identify the problem and prevent any further damage. Here are some of the tests you can expect from your otologist:
Using a torch-like device, the doctor will use the light beam to see inside your ear canal and eardrum. This is to see that it is free of wax and debris as this could be a factor in your hearing or ear problems.
A small rubber tip like an earphone will be placed in your ear. You will feel a change in pressure from the air pushed into your ear from the small device.
Immittance audiometry screens three things:
- Static immittance
- Eardrum perforations and the presence of wax and fluid build-up
- Acoustic reflex threshold sensitivity
Audiogram (Air Conduction Testing)
Your otologist will give you a small device with a button to hold and place headphones over your ears.
Air conduction testing is carried out by pure tone stimuli. The headphone will deliver the stimuli to your ears and every time you hear a beep, you must push the response button. This test is done to establish hearing sensitivity.
The level of stimuli is alternatively increased and decreased in 10-decibel increments while your specialist monitors your response.
This test is done to test the severity of your hearing loss.
Bone Conduction Testing
The process is exactly the same as the audiogram the only difference being is that your headphones will be placed on the bone behind your ear.
This device will decode sound waves and convert them into vibrations that will bypass the eardrums and go directly into the cochlea.
The doctor will discuss your findings and needs assessment with you and you can request to have the formal report sent to you in the mail. If your physician finds that you need another screening for a potential hearing aid, he/she will book you for an appointment.
Why people who need hearing aids don’t get them
So your doctor has determined that your condition is acute enough to warrant an aid. Although over 3.55 million Australians live with hearing loss, only 1 in 5 of people who could benefit from using a hearing aid actually uses one. Several people opt not to try out a hearing device for a number of reasons:
- Finances, as one hearing aid can range from $1,000- $6,000. This can mean twice that amount because aids are often bought in pairs
- Embarrassment, because people associate hearing aids with old age
- Many people don’t believe they have a hearing issue. This is because hearing loss can be so gradual and subtle that the person learns to accustom themselves to every new hearing stage. Audiologists and otologists often encounter people who vehemently deny having a hearing issue for these very reasons.
- The misconception that hearing aids don’t work. This prejudice probably came about from old models of aids that were bigger, clumsy, and not as efficient as the ones available today.
- Vanity and refusing to wear a conspicuous device in public.
- Older generations grew up in an era where the words ‘deaf and dumb’ went hand in hand and back then dumb did not equate to being mute.
- Hearing aids can cause overstimulation. Sounds that people haven’t heard in years can be crystal clear with listening devices and it can be overwhelming, particularly for the elderly.
- Fear of doctors. The age demographic of people who typically require aids grew up in a time when medicinal practices were still primitive. A lot of these men and women would rather just learn to tough it out and live with hearing loss than visit the doctor.
- Fear of ridicule, especially for younger people who deal with hearing loss.
Benefits of hearing aids
It is estimated that by 2050, 1 in 4 Australians will live with a hearing impairment. Even with these statistics, hearing loss can often go undiagnosed for several years. Communication and the ability to socialise and go to work can be seriously affected without following through on your needs assessment. But more than this, if hearing loss goes unaided, you are at risk of losing your hearing altogether.
Here are some benefits of setting yourself up with a hearing aid:
- Greatest benefit- hearing well keeps you safe. Hearing and knowing where hazards like moving vehicles and angry dogs are coming from is a big plus. Hearing loss also causes imbalance and increases your risk of tripping.
- You won’t miss out on auditory cues. Missing a telephone call or the doorbell can result in social isolation and missing out on important information.
- You’re actually LESS conspicuous. Aids are sometimes avoided because of the attraction it might draw, but talking very loudly, listening to the television at high volumes, and misinterpreting conversations can make you stand out more than a small device.
- If you’re worried about how it looks, very small hearing aids that are almost impossible to see are now available on the market.
- You avoid the frustration of a misread conversation.
- Your productivity will increase, and consequently, your success.
Hearing aid appointment
If you have decided to improve your hearing with an aid, fantastic. We have compiled a list of things you can expect at your hearing aid fitting:
- You will need a medical referral from a licensed physician, especially if you have health insurance
- Your fitting appointment will take about an hour
- You’ll pick out a hearing aid
- Your doctor will perform fitting and verification, quality control and hearing assistive technology.
- The otologist will walk you through the technical side of things, such as how to use and care for your aid
- You can resolve any queries you may have such as volume control and wireless connectivity from a smartphone if that interests you.
How is a hearing aid inserted?
Many new, smaller aids on the market that only sit inside the ear and are hardly noticeable. However, these are costly. The most common hearing aids, BTE’s (behind the ears) can be worn and removed easily in 3 easy steps:
- Place the hearing aid wire comfortably behind your ear and close to your head
- Put the ear-tip into your ear while holding on to the second lower (retention) wire
- Fit the retention wire along the dome of your ear by running along it with your finger
How to care for your hearing aid
Hearing devices are small, fiddly things that could break if dropped on a hard surface. Always ensure to take them off over your bed or over a towel to prevent breakage. Other things to consider when looking after your aids are:
- Aids are not waterproof, so remove them before swimming or taking a shower
- Try not to get any sort of substance on them, such as make-up as moisture can cause malfunction
- Make sure your ears are clean and dry before putting aids on
- Always remove them when you go to the doctors for any sort of scan
- According to your instruction manual, clean your aid every day with a soft cloth
- Make sure your hands are clean when handling your aid and do not use alcohol, pointed objects, or wet cloths to wipe them clean.
- Remove them before sleeping and store aids in a clean, dry box.
What to expect: Life with hearing aids
Before your hearing aids, you would have become accustomed to a limited range of sounds. Hearing the tap run clearly, or the dryer tumbling, or the lawn mower, might be overwhelming at first. Your brain will have to adjust to the new stimuli and your ears will be adjusting to the familiarity of the device.
Here are some other things you can expect with your hearing aid:
- Expect sound to be different, even the sound of your own voice.
- Background noises will sound sharper, however this will go away after some time. This is because your brain has forgotten how to muffle background noise, such as chatter, or footsteps. Give yourself a little time. To get through this phase quickly, audiologists suggest wearing your hearing aid regularly. This will help in ‘training’ your brain to restore its natural noise filter.
- To ease you into conversations, new patients are advised to have their first one-on-one talks in a relaxed atmosphere, rather than in a crowd.
- One thing you might take into consideration when you’re comfortable with conversations is body placement. To understand the speaker with clarity, you will find yourself positioning your hearing aid-ear towards the speaker.
- Hearing aids sometimes tickle in the first few days. You will eventually get used to living with them.
- Sometimes your aid will be so comfortable you can forget that you’re wearing them. Always remove them before going to bed, or getting into the shower.
- Be patient with yourself and open about your hearing difficulties with those around you. This will save you and your loved ones some frustration as you deal with the new adjustments.
- Expect subsequent visits to your specialist. Hearing aids last for about 4- 6 years. How you care for your aid is an important factor.
What do hearing aids cost?
Traditional BTE (behind the ear) aids cost around $1,000 for basic models and around $6,000 for advanced ones. Invisible-in-the-Canal models are dearer and usually paid for on a subscription basis- somewhere around $2,500 a year. Aside from these costs, if you want other features like smartphone connectivity, microphones or telecoils that focus on direct speech, expect to have out-of-pockets.
Medicare does not cover hearing aid or tests, so expect to pay the full amount yourself.
The federal government has a hearing services program for some concession card holders like pensioners and veterans. They offer free hearing assessment, rehabilitation, and basic aids and listening devices.
If you have private health insurance, many extras policies such as ahm family extras will contribute up to $1,200 to the cost of your hearing aid over 3 financial years. With the right policy, you could spend less in insurance premiums than the actual hearing aid rebate returned back and have the advantage of added benefits such as dental cover.
If you’re interested in getting yourself privately insured and don’t know where to begin, that’s where we come in. To save you the hassle of going through every single health fund in Australia, the friendly staff at Health Deal will do that for you. Health Deal is a free health insurance comparison service that understands your needs and helps to ensure you have the best possible cover for yourself and the rest of the family. Unsure about insurance? Call us on 1300 369 399
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