Q: What types of hearing aids are available today?
A: There are three basic types of hearing aids available today. They are described generically as completely-in-the-canal (CIC), in-the-ear (ITE), and behind-the-ear (BTE). A new alternative is the disposable hearing aid. This type of unit fits in the ear canal and is discarded when the batteries wear out.
Q: How do consumers choose the right type of hearing aid?
A: The degree of hearing loss is a major factor in deciding what type of hearing aid best suits a person’s need. Personal preference and lifestyle are also factors that should be considered. Hearing Instrument Specialists® should guide hearing aid selection.
Q: How does a hearing aid work?
A: The microphone in the aid picks up the sound in the environment and changes it to electrical energy that goes to a set of amplifiers and other modifying and adjusting circuits. The modified electrical signal is then sent to a miniature speaker (called a receiver) and delivered to the ear. The newest aids are smart enough to amplify certain sounds or frequencies that are tailored to each hearing loss.
Q. What kind of research is taking place to improve hearing aids?
A. Engineers and scientists are designing components to deliver sound to the ear that replaces lost or distorted cues which contribute to the understanding of speech. Changes in directionality of microphones, the nature of the amplifier and fidelity of the sound in noise remain the main focus of most research.
Q. How do hearing aids perform with background noise?
A. Background noise is present in everyone’s life. Unconsciously, the brain filters out most background noise. During hearing loss, the brain becomes lazy in this process because all sounds are reduced or inaudible. When an individual begins using the hearing aid all sounds are once again heard and it is necessary to retrain the brain in selective listening skills. It is critical that the hearing aid consumer participate in follow-up and counseling sessions during this period of adjustment.
Q. Where can a consumer obtain a hearing aid?
A. Hearing aids can be purchased from several different sources including professional practices and retail establishments owned and/or operated by Hearing Instrument Specialists®; audiologists and some otologists; and otolaryngologist/ear, nose and throat specialists (ENTs).
Q. How much do hearing aids cost?
A. The cost of hearing aids varies depending on the type of hearing aid, the number of special features and the professional services provided. As a result, the range of prices varies.
Q. Why does the price of a hearing aid vary by dispenser?
A. As with all competing industries, brisk competition among hearing aid dispensers provides consumers with a wide variety of pricing and service options.
Q. Are hearing aids covered under Medicare?
Q. What are the federal consumer protection rules in place regarding the sale of hearing aids?
A. All hearing aid dispensers must adhere to comprehensive federal regulations of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) governing hearing aid sales practices and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) governing advertising. FDA rules require that a prospective purchaser be advised to obtain a medical evaluation of hearing loss within six months prior to obtaining a hearing aid. Once informed of appropriate FDA disclosures an adult customer may sign a waiver in lieu of a medical examination. A user instructional brochure containing all relevant information must be provided to prospective purchasers. The FDA points out that the services of the hearing instrument dispenser include testing of hearing for selecting and fitting hearing aids, motivating prospective users to try amplification, making impressions for earmolds, counseling hearing impaired persons on adapting to a hearing aid, and repairing damaged hearing aids. The dispenser is also required to advise a prospective client to consult a physician if it is determined that the individual has any of a variety of otologic conditions. Under the Federal Trade Commission Act, the FTC can take action against companies with faulty or deceptive advertising.
Q. What are hearing aid manufacturers doing to address the FDA’s concerns about advertising?
A. The FDA questioned whether some of the claims made in advertising by the manufacturers of hearing aids could be substantiated. The manufacturers believe they can be, and will compile the information needed. The FDA’s actions did not raise questions about the safety or value or hearing aids.
Q. Can consumers try a hearing aid before deciding to purchase one?
A. Most hearing aid dispensers offer and promote a trial rental or purchase option program, and prospective hearing aid purchasers should look for this assurance. Most trial periods are at least 30 days in length.
Q. Can consumers receive refunds if they choose not to keep the hearing aid?
A. Before completing the hearing aid purchase, the consumer should reach a definite agreement with the dispenser about the details of the transaction. Most hearing aid dispensers provide trial periods of at least 30 days in length. If the hearing aid is provided outside the dispenser’s place of business, there is a mandatory three-day cooling-off period. During this time, a refund is available to the consumer. Additionally, manufacturers provide a comprehensive one-year warranty; some even include: a) complete replacement if the instrument is lost, stolen or damaged beyond repair; b) no charge for repairs due to mechanical failure of any type during the warranty period; c) replacement of the instrument if physical ear size changes; and d) adjustment of the acoustical performance of their instrument if the user’s hearing requirements change.
Q. Who can consumers contact with possible grievances?
A. If a disagreement should arise that cannot be resolved between the consumer and the hearing aid dispenser, the consumer should contact the hearing aid dispenser’s association in their state or province. Complaints also can be made to state consumer protection agencies and the Better Business Bureau. The Hearing Aid Helpline at 800-521-5247 is available to provide sources and contacts for filing complaints. If a dispute cannot be solved voluntarily, formal complaints should be made to the state licensing boards, which have the authority to initiate law enforcement actions.