Hearing loss - the daunting process of finding the right care
By: Smita Singh M.S CCC-A
Excel Audiology @ Gupta ENT Center
The diagnosis of permanent hearing loss is never the one where the patient immediately opts for the cure. By cure, I mean hearing aids. Why is it so different from any other diagnoses, where the patient takes it seriously and follows the recommended treatment. If one is diagnosed with high blood pressure or diabetes, the patient is more than likely inclined to take medications to keep those conditions under control. So why are people so lax about following the recommendations for hearing aids. Is it because of the stigma or vanity, or the cost, or is it because it’s not a condition that needs immediate attention.
In my career as an Audiologist, I have seen many such reasons for not getting hearing aids. Some patient’s talk about “friend’s bad experiences with hearing aids”, and put it off. In today’s narrative I would like to address the importance of working with a qualified Audiologist who can help them choose the right hearing aids based on their hearing loss and listening needs. An Audiologist is a hearing care professional with an M.S. or M.A or, AuD or a PhD, with an ABA or FAA or a CCC-A certification. Most states also require state licensure to practice Audiology.
So these days there is a lot of excitement about the cheaper OTC devices to treat hearing loss. The FDA regulations for these have to be in place. However, some companies already have products on the market, claiming as OTC. Patient’s need to remember that these are not regulated by the FDA. The FDA-regulated OTC devices are to be used by people suffering from mild to moderate hearing loss. However, this degree of hearing loss cannot be regarded as something to be self-diagnosed and treated. Patients do need to get a thorough hearing evaluation to determine the degree of deficit. It is very easy to underestimate the degree of hearing loss. Every person can perceive the deficit differently. When I fit a patient with hearing aids for their first time, they are amazed at how much they can hear. They admit that they did not realize “how bad their hearing was!” Depending on the duration of the hearing loss, for example, some people wait too long before they get hearing aids, adjustment to amplification is comparatively harder and these patients complain of hearing “too much”. How does one determine if they are getting the loss-appropriate fit with self-diagnosis and OTC devices?
The leading scientific voices on hearing care have concluded in a recent consensus paper that the best way to protect consumers is to control the amplification of these Over-The-Counter devices by regulating the decibel gain (volume) and the decibel output (maximum loudness). We will have to wait and see how these OTC products are labeled and how they are described on the packaging. For example, two people with the mild - moderate kind of hearing loss, can have a very different “configuration” of the loss depending on what frequencies are affected. People don’t know what they can’t hear, which is why so many people end up waiting years to seek help in the first place as their hearing keeps declining. Recent studies have pointed out the importance of appropriate and timely intervention/treatment with hearing aids in order to prevent cognitive decline. This evidence makes it even more important that consumers look at hearing devices or OTCs in the near future as medical devices and not commodities and find a good audiologist to fit them.