What exactly is hearing loss, and how do hearing aids work? We find that many of our patients come to us with basic questions or misconceptions about hearing loss and hearing aids. Because we want our patients to make informed decisions and truly understand their options, we've gathered some of the most common information that patients need to know about hearing.
You might have hearing loss if you find yourself turning the TV up higher than people around you, giving the wrong answers or answering the wrong questions, asking people to repeat themselves a lot, or isolating yourself because you’re not able to communicate with people and it's frustrating. Many of our patients notice there's a problem because they can't hear the pastors at church. If any of these sound familiar, it's probably worth coming in for a hearing test. Even if nothing's wrong, it can be helpful to put your mind at ease and have a baseline in case your hearing changes in the future.
Hearing aids have changed a lot over the past decade or two, and our ability to treat more complicated hearing loss continues to grow every year. For people with hearing loss, hearing aids can seem like a miracle cure, but some people have had bad experiences and think that hearing aids won't work. The truth is somewhere in the middle; hearing aids can make a huge difference for most people, but there are limits to what they can do. We let every patient know what they can expect from hearing aids. Some people will not be able to reach 100% benefit even with their hearing aids, but they'll still notice a big improvement.
Putting off getting hearing aids can actually have permanent consequences, so if you think you might have hearing loss, it's important to look into solutions soon rather than waiting. What happens is that if your brain is not getting a signal from your ears because of hearing loss, that part of the brain will atrophy over time and no longer be able to work as well. If your brain is still fully operational, then turning the volume up with a hearing aid will help you hear better because your brain can get the messages from your ear and understand the words you hear. But if you have a bad signal from your ear to your brain, a hearing aid will stimulate that area of your brain but you may not have full cognition and you may not be able to understand what you hear as clearly as you want to. It’s like not being able to see 20/20 even with glasses; it's still better than not having the glasses or hearing aids, but you have to have realistic expectations. Hearing aids are only as good as the connection from your ear to your brain. Treat your hearing loss done sooner, rather than later. You'll be glad you did.
The relationship between audiologist and patient is important because we need to be able to communicate with each other about what you're hearing. Sometimes we can hit your target volume and yet you don't like the sound from your hearing aids. If that happens, the answer isn't "just get used to it" — hearing aids can't help you if you don't want to wear them. Fortunately, we have a lot of control over the acoustics of your hearing aid. If something doesn't seem right, if it's too tinny or too heavy with bass, let your audiologist know and we'll work with you until we get it right.
Tinnitus is a common complaint due to hearing loss and/or noise exposure. Studies have found that it is similar to phantom pain that a person feels when they lose an arm or leg. It's your brains way of looking for information that is no longer there due to injury or trauma. Neural impulses are sent out to the area that is no longer responding for your brain to get feedback from that area. There is no perfect solution for every case of tinnitus, but many hearing instruments can treat tinnitus at the same time they treat hearing loss.
Your treatment plan depends on what kind of hearing loss you have. Most forms of hearing loss can be treated, so it's worth looking into your options, even if other doctors have given you the impression that there may not be a solution for you. There are three main kinds of hearing loss:
You can also have a combination of nerve damage and either wax or fluid buildup, which will make your hearing even worse. In this case, the first step is for a physician to treat the conductive hearing loss, and then the remaining hearing loss can usually be treated with hearing devices.