The world of hearing aids is about to become even more complicated, so the hearing professional you have in your corner can make a world of difference in how well you navigate the important choices that can help you hear your best.
Why are things about to become more complicated? That’s because the government has approved a new category of hearing aids called over-the-counter (OTC) devices. The original idea behind these hearing aids was that they would be less expensive, more affordable and could potentially help more people. The government is still defining the parameters of these devices, but OTC doesn’t necessarily mean easy. It does, however, mean more choices in an already complex field.
OTC hearing aids are designed for individuals with mild to moderate hearing loss. Anyone with severe hearing loss would still require prescription hearing aids. The catch is that it’s recommended, but not required, that you have a hearing test to determine your level of hearing loss before buying. If you’re not sure what type of hearing loss you have and you guess incorrectly, you might end up buying the wrong type of hearing aids, or you might not need hearing aids at all.
That’s why major professional organizations recommend you have a comprehensive hearing evaluation performed by an audiologist before purchasing any type of hearing aid, whether it’s an OTC or a prescription device.
Why an audiologist?
An audiologist is a degreed professional who specializes in the diagnosis and non-medical treatment of hearing loss, tinnitus, and balance disorders.
- Test hearing and balance.
- Recommend, service, and adjust hearing aids.
- Recommend and provide assistive listening devices (products to enhance telephone conversations, television viewing, etc.).
- Provide tinnitus assessment and management.
- Provide education regarding the effects of noise on hearing and prevention of hearing loss.
- Deliver counseling and aural rehabilitation (counseling, education, auditory training/exercises).
An audiologist also can determine the type of hearing loss you have, and help you decide whether you’re a good candidate for OTC hearing aids or prescription devices.
Audiologists receive extensive education in hearing and balance disorders in order to be able to perform the type of testing necessary to diagnose hearing loss, recommend and fit hearing aids. Audiologists practicing today have earned a doctoral degree designated as Au.D., (Doctor of Audiology—clinical degree); Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy—research and/or clinical research degree); or Sc.D. (Doctor of Science—usually a clinical degree) to designate doctoral training.
As part of their four-year doctoral training, audiologists spend a final year completing an externship experience supervised by a licensed audiologist. The externship provides practical, hands-on, advanced experience. At Associated Audiologists, we typically have two to three externs working in our clinics as they finalize their training.
In addition to prescribing and fitting hearing aids, these professionals test the hearing of newborns, teach listening skills and strategies, assess individuals with central auditory processing disorders, diagnose and manage tinnitus and misophonia (sound sensitivity) and diagnose and treat dizziness and balance disorders.
Audiologists may be invited to provide clinical teaching and adjunct clinical supervision at universities and colleges that have audiology programs. Several members of the Associated Audiologists team serve as adjunct faculty with the University of Kansas Medical Center.
The audiologist you choose to work with should be a member of a professional organization, such as the Academy of Doctors of Audiology or the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association and should uphold the professional code of ethics from one of these organizations.
How can an audiologist help you?
Prescription hearing aids are medical devices regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and must be recommended, prescribed, and fit by licensed professionals. This standard is in place to protect the individual with hearing loss, because not all individuals are candidates for hearing aids.
There are literally hundreds of hearing aids available with a wide variety of features. An audiologist can not only use advanced diagnostic testing to determine your type of hearing loss but can use this information to determine the best hearing aid solution for your specific needs and budget.
Digital prescription hearing aids utilize tiny computer processors. They can be programmed, but if they are not adjusted correctly for your specific hearing loss, you could purchase a hearing aid and not receive the full benefit.
An audiologist who follows best practices and uses the correct verification equipment has the expertise to program your hearing aids for your individual hearing needs.
Even if you’re planning to purchase OTC hearing aids when they become available, an audiologist can help you determine whether your hearing loss is mild, moderate, or severe, and can help make recommendations based on their training and experience. This guidance can ensure that you purchase the best devices for your individual situation.
If you wear prescription hearing aids, be certain you choose an audiologist who uses specialized diagnostic and verification equipment, including real-ear probe microphone and speech mapping measures. Only 20 to 30 percent of all audiologists use this additional technology, but these sophisticated tests independently verify how well a hearing aid functions while in your ear. This is considered one of the most important standards of care for fitting hearing instruments and is a practice that each member of the Associated Audiologists team adheres to.
At the end of the day, the audiologist you choose should be professional and genuinely interested in helping you hear your best, no matter what type of hearing device you’re looking for.