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9 Myths about Hearing Aids that even some Clinicians believe to be true

Time to Read: 17 minutes

  • You get what you pay for
  • The more you pay, the smaller the hearing aid
  • If you have difficulty hearing in noise, only the best will do
  • One brand is as good as another
  • Audiologists are always better than audiometrists when it comes to fitting hearing aids
  • If my friend does well with a particular model of hearing aid I should too
  • I only need to use the hearing aid when I think I need it
  • Hearing aids 'cuts out' background noise
  • If I don't use hearing aids my hearing will deteriorate

MythsYou get what you pay for

When it comes to hearing aids, this is one of the most common myths. You are led to believe that the more you pay, the better the hearing aid will work for you.

Sure it is best to stick to the big brands with deep pockets leading to lots of research investment, but when it comes to levels of technology within a single brand’s specific range, there is no quality difference in the parts used.

FACT:

Less expensive models from quality brands, may serve you just as well as more expensive models. The key here is, that the aid is capable of delivering the performance required by your unique hearing in quiet and in noise. It is also better to choose a more recent than older range and performance improves with each release.  See how to choose the best hearing aid for you here

The more you pay, the smaller the hearing aid

Some businesses have their clinicians show people big and unattractive hearing aids, when showing what a basic hearing aid looks like and smaller aids when discussing more expensive models. This is especially true when it comes to free-to-client hearing aids vs top-up hearing aids under the Government pension subsidy. It seems some providers use the desirability of smaller size to get clients to pay more. 

FACT:

Size normally has NO relation to cost at all. There are small and large hearing aids available within most price ranges, especially when it comes to quality brands.

If you have difficulty hearing in noise, only the best will do

This one is probably the one that even gets some clinicians and is perpetuated by the way hearing aid manufacturers have influenced the industry to select hearing aids.

Basically this myth revolves around the ASSUMPTION that everyone with hearing loss has equally poor hearing in noise!

So the normal way of selecting hearing aids revolve around your lifestyle. The more noise you need to hear in, the more you need to pay to get a hearing aid that will assist you in noise. Seems logical doesn’t it? It would be if everyone was exactly the same, which is an impossibility.

FACT:

Once hearing loss has been taken out of the picture (by using a hearing aid to boost the sounds you can’t hear), everyone’s remaining ability to hear in noise varies greatly. Some people only need a little bit of help to hear in even the most challenging situations, where others need a lot of help while others still cannot cope even when using the best hearing aid technology available.

The ONLY way to know if an aid will work for you in noise is to undergo a speech-in-noise sentence test. With this test, sentences are presented loud enough to get past your hearing loss and what remains is your brain’s ability to filter speech from noise. Our data suggests that you are very likely to be recommended a more expensive hearing aid than you actually need without this testing. 

These results should then be used to match to various hearing aids to your unique requirements in quiet and in noise and. Using this technique you are significantly more likely to end up with the best solution. Ironically, more often than not, even basic hearing aids can deliver exceptional results when your brain is able to do the hard lifting in noise. This is possibly the reason many businesses that rely on hearing aid sales, don’t include this sort of testing in their hearing aid selection.

You can read more about getting the best solution for hearing in noise here.

One brand is as good as another

This myth is most often perpetuated in marketing and messaging by those hearing aid retailers who sell only limited brands. The sad truth is that choice of brand that is sold is often linked to how cheaply they can acquire a specific brand from a supplier. In some cases, the retailer is also owned by the supplier! It is often all about profit maximization rather than client outcomes.

FACT: 

The top three brands own around 75% of the market and have much more research investment than some smaller brands. Many of the smaller brands are owned by the same companies that own the top brands. These smaller brands often get technology rolled out later or simply get watered down features. Top brands develop their own chips and algorithms to stay far ahead of the pack, while other smaller brands may use older off the shelf technology and older licensed algorithms to process the sound. Top brands also offer better build quality, sound quality, performance in noise and durability compared to off the shelf variants.

A good way to spot a hearing aid built with off the shelf components is to look at the number of colour options the aid comes in. Off the shelf is limited to beige and maybe grey and little else.

In Australia, we also find that customer service, repair turnaround times and repair quality also tends to be better with the larger manufacturers.

The Top 3 Brands are:

Followed by (in no particular order):

  • GN Resound (Seems to be vying for a spot in the top 3)
  • Widex (does a second tier brand called Coselgi)
  • Unitron (Sister company of Phonak)
  • Bernafon (sister company of Oticon)
  • Sonic Innovations (sister company of Oticon)
  • Starkey
  • Hansaton (Sister company of Phonak - is currently an exact replica of Unitron)

There is yet another problem to be wary of. Some devices marketed as hearing aids, aren’t actually hearing aids at all. We have an entire article dedicated to that here.

Audiologists are always better than audiometrists when it comes to fitting hearing aids

As an Audiologist, I might be in trouble with my professional body for saying this as many audiologist believe they are better than audiometrists. At one stage I felt the same way.

FACT: 

Audiologists have a broader scope of practice than Audiometrists and tend to have more qualifications. So they can work in research, with children, cochlear implants, balance testing etc. as well as with hearing aids.

Audiometrists are mainly limited to hearing tests for adults and hearing aid fittings. I have seen many audiometrists who do a better job at fitting hearing aids than Audiologists and vice versa.

So qualification is no indication of the outcome you are likely to receive. Make sure the clinician you work with is qualified and listens to your needs, rather than pushing you to take an action you are not ready for. 

If my friend does well with a particular model of hearing aid I should too.

Surely if someone you know and trust finds a particular hearing aid good, then you should consider that hearing aid too?

FACT:

Hearing aids, unlike consumer electronics, can be adjusted to suit various individual hearing loss patterns. Some hearing aids are better suited to certain hearing loss configurations, than others. Your friend might be able to understand speech in quiet and speech in noise, with only a little boost to their hearing. Your inherent ability to hear and understand speech might be more impaired than your friend’s. That is also why hearing aid model specific reviews cannot be relied upon to give you a true indication of how you might fare. Even more concrete aspects such as reliability and ease of use can differ between users.

It is much better to look at references from friends to a specific independent provider, where they felt heard and their needs were carefully assessed and individually addressed. An Independent provider should have access to a number of hearing aid brands, from which they can choose the one best suited to your unique needs. Make sure that the chosen provider assesses your ability to hear speech in quiet and in noise, before making hearing aid recommendations.

I only need to use the hearing aid when I think I need it

“I can hear perfectly fine in quiet, so I chose to wear the hearing aid/s only when I go out.”

This is a comment I hear almost daily and it makes sense if you see a hearing aid simply as a tool to hear better.

FACT: 

Hearing aids do not fix your ears, they actually help your brain. This is especially true to sensorineural (nerve related or permanent) hearing loss, which is by far the most common hearing loss hearing aids are used for.

With nerve deafness, the ear, which acts as the microphone to the brain, is permanently damaged. A hearing aid does not “fix” the hearing loss. Instead, it corrects for the damage before sending the sound into the damaged ear.

The brain receives this adjusted sound and then with exposure, gradually rewires to make the best use of this new sound. In order for this to work, the brain needs to see the hearing aid sound as the “normal” condition. The only way to achieve this is to wear the hearing aid/s as much as possible during waking hours. The more you do, the quicker you’ll adjust and the better you’ll do with hearing aids in a variety of listening situations. Of course, you’ll do much better if the hearing aid was selected with your hearing in quiet in noise taken into account.  

Hearing aids “CUT OUT” Background noise

So many people walk into the clinic thinking hearing aids work like noise cancelling headphones, cutting out all noise.

FACT:

Hearing aids are designed to give you as complete as possible environmental awareness while making speech as clear as possible for your particular hearing loss. Unlike noise-cancelling headphones, where the signal (music or whatever you choose to listen to), is clean and all it has to do is cancel out anything that is not signal (coming from outside the headphone enclosure). Hearing aids receive a signal (speech) that is already mixed with noise by the time it reaches the microphone. It then has to reduce the noise relative to the signal (speech), correct this to your hearing loss and deliver it into your ear in real time. This is a MUCH more challenging task.

The other important point is that even if they could, you probably would not like the aid to remove all the noise. You need environmental awareness to hear when a bus is bearing down on you, when the phone rings or an alarm goes off or simply if someone is trying to get your attention.

Hearing aids are very good at improving the signal to noise ratio (speech louder than noise), which is what your brain needs to understand speech in noise (depending on your measured hearing in noise requirements). Some brains are better than others and similarly some hearing aid technologies are better than others in achieving this. You can read more about the most important hearing aid features here.

If I don’t use hearing aids my hearing will deteriorate

Some people have been told in the past that if you don’t use your hearing it will become worse.

FACT:

Your hearing will deteriorate at whatever rate it would naturally deteriorate whether or not you use hearing aids. The good news is that professionally fitted hearing aids do not make your hearing any worse. The bad news is that badly fitted hearing aids can cause noise induced hearing damage, hence the need for a professional face to face fitting.

As hearing aids work on the brain rather than on the ears, professionally fitted hearing aids also keep the brain going for longer when it comes to understanding speech. There is also research coming to light suggesting hearing aids may help stave off certain types of dementia. So despite them not arresting the natural deterioration in your hearing levels, they are still an invaluable tool for improving quality of life.  They will also keep your ability to understand speech working optimally for longer, which is important as there is little more frustrating than to hear but not understand.