How to Find the Right Hearing Aid for You

Just like glasses are for patients with vision loss, a hearing aid helps patients with hearing loss. Hearing loss can be caused by many different factors. An ENT (ear, nose, and throat) specialist, or otolaryngologist, is the best specialist to diagnose causes of hearing loss. Depending on your degree of hearing loss, type of hearing loss, and other medical factors, you may benefit from a hearing aid. A primary care physician can refer you to an ENT specialist, who often works with an audiologist, to evaluate the severity and cause of your hearing loss.

More information on possible causes of hearing loss and impairment can be found by reading about autoimmune inner ear disease, conductive hearing loss, sensorineural hearing loss, pediatric hearing loss, acoustic neuroma, otosclerosis, genes and hearing loss, noise-induced hearing loss in children, and treating and managing ear fluid.

An audiogram, often given by an audiologist, assesses the hearing loss. The audiogram is a hearing evaluation of your ability to hear pure tone sounds and understand words. The results of these tests will reveal the degree of hearing loss and additional information about your ears and overall health. A soundproof booth minimizes outer noise. After the test, an ENT specialist can help you understand your hearing loss and counsel you on how best to evaluate and manage it.

Degrees of hearing loss vary from patient to patient, but generally fall within the following decibel (dB) level categories:

  • Normal hearing: 0-20 dB
  • Mild hearing loss: 20-40 dB
  • Moderate hearing loss: 40-70 dB
  • Severe hearing loss: 70-90 dB
  • Profound hearing loss: greater than 90 dB

How Do Hearing Aids Work?

Hearing aids are small devices that amplify sound and can help people hear better with hearing loss. Hearing aids differ by design, technology used for amplification (i.e., analog versus digital), and other special features. Generally, the microphone receives sound and converts it into a digital signal; the amplifier increases the strength of the digital signal; and the speaker produces the amplified sound into the ear.

Important Tip: Federal law in the United States on obtaining hearing aids is changing pending final regulations from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Once those regulations are finalized, adults with mild to moderate hearing loss will not have to see a doctor to buy hearing aids. However, the American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery recommends that anyone with hearing loss see an ENT specialist for a medical evaluation to ensure there is not an underlying medical condition causing the hearing loss. Hearing loss and balance disorders are medical conditions. Only licensed physicians with a medical school degree (MD or DO) and training, or physician extenders (i.e., PA or NP) working under a physician’s supervision, may diagnose and manage diseases and medical disorders that cause hearing loss.

Read updates on over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids from the National Institutes of Health.

What Are the Different Types of Hearing Aids?

The best hearing aid for you depends on your age, individual hearing loss and listening needs, the size and shape of your ear and ear canal, and how well you can use your hands. Some hearing aids work better with phones and other sound systems, and some include Bluetooth options. Styles include:

  • Behind-the-ear (BTE) aids go over the ear and are thinly wired to personally fitted earpieces
  • Receiver-in-the-ear (RITE) aids are placed over the ear but are small and nearly invisible
  • In-the-ear (ITE) hearing aids fit in the ear bowl area and part of the ear canal
  • You may also be able to use smaller in-the-ear, or in-the-canal (ITC) aids
  • The least visible aids are completely-in-the-canal (CIC)

In addition, Personal Sound Amplification Products (PSAPs), which are available over the counter, cost a fraction of the price of the average hearing aid. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration currently states that “PSAPs are not intended to be used as hearing aids to compensate for hearing impairment,” but they may be helpful to some people with mild to moderate hearing loss.

Usually, if you have hearing loss in both ears, using two hearing aids is best. Listening in a noisy environment is difficult with an aid in just one ear because it is harder to distinguish where sounds are coming from. Again, your ENT specialist and/or audiologist can help you decide which device may work best for you and your lifestyle.

How Do I Select a Hearing Aid?

Your healthcare team can recommend hearing aid manufacturers that best meet your hearing requirements. Hearing aids vary according to style, features, and price so selecting the right one is essential. Prices can range from under $1,000 to more than $4,000 for each device depending on the level of technology (insurance providers may not cover the cost). Product quality and proper care can save you repair costs and enhance your satisfaction.

What Questions Should I Ask My Doctor?

With any healthcare provider, you always have the right to ask questions like:

  1. Do I really need a hearing aid?
  2. Will using a hearing aid cause further hearing loss?
  3. Are there simpler, cheaper options?
  4. What happens if I do not do anything?

When talking to your hearing aid retailer, be sure to ask about:

  • Proper usage and care strategies
  • Future service and repair plans
  • Trial period or return policy
  • Warranty coverage and extra insurance
  • Consumer protection programs

Most importantly, a hearing aid should fit comfortably, or you are likely not to use it. The person fitting your hearing aid should test your understanding of words and sounds in quiet as well as in noisy environments. On your own, you may start using your hearing aids in quiet surroundings to get used to the changes before moving on to more noisy places like the grocery store or a restaurant.

Think about keeping a diary to help you remember your experiences in different environments and report them to your fitter for adjustments as needed until you’re comfortable wearing your hearing aids during all waking hours. Be patient and allow yourself to get used to the aids and the “new” sounds they allow you to hear.

Related Conditions

The information on ENThealth.org is provided solely for educational purposes and does not represent medical advice, nor is it a substitute for seeking professional medical care.