2010-10-22 / Columnists

Have You Heard?

Invisible Hearing Aids
Commentary By Shirley Pollak, Au.D

If you have to hold the morning paper at arm’s length to read the headline, you’d probably get your eyes examined and get yourself a pair of reading glasses. No problem, right? (It isn’t that there’s a problem with your eyes, it’s just that your arms aren’t long enough…)

We all use “adaptive” devices to improve our quality of life, but for some reason, many people still feel a stigma associated with hearing loss and wearing hearing aids. And so, many consumers are in search of invisible hearing aids or the smallest hearing aids available. So what are your options when it comes to invisible hearing aids?

If, indeed, a low profile tops your “must-have” list, you’ve got lots of options.

With a new focus on design, today’s hearing aid manufacturers deliver hearing aids that are smaller, more discrete and, in some cases, completely invisible.

In fact, all digital hearing aids today are compact and understated, though it’s important to discuss options with an audiologist. It’s also important to have a complete audiological evaluation to determine the type of hearing loss and the extent of hearing loss you experience as this will affect the style and size of hearing aid you should wear.

After you’ve been evaluated, your audiologist will discuss options and this is where you can talk about your top priority – invisibility.

There are different types of hearing aids, each offering a low profile that doesn’t make a statement to the world and helps maintain your confidence and self-esteem.

The first type of hearing aid is called a CIC – completely in the canal. These small custom-made hearing aids slip unobtrusively into the ear canal, virtually invisible to all with the exception of a small plastic removal string that in itself is difficult to see. The CIC is an option for people with mild to moderate hearing loss.

CICs are invisible but they also have some characteristics worth consideration. CICs block out all natural sound, meaning they almost completely block the ear canal so the hearing aid must process and amplify all sounds. Some wearers complain of a stuffy feeling and a difference in the sound of their own voices.

It is not ideal for all hearing losses, particularly when low frequency, or low pitch, hearing is normal.

CICs may not be recommended for people who produce a lot of ear wax, a natural substance produced by glands that line the ear canal. Since CIC’s sit so deep in the ear canal, ear wax can clog up the internal parts of the CIC and cause damage. And due to the small size of these devices, they often aren’t recommended for those with dexterity problems.

Another type of invisible hearing aid is called an open ear BTE – behind the ear hearing aids. These are small, discrete and are almost invisible. Open ear BTE hearing aids are small in size and rest behind the outer ear lobe with a small thin tube running down into the ear canal. They’re small, discrete, and lightweight and deliver wearing comfort all day long.

BTEs are barely visible and, depending on the length of your hair, can be made even more discrete. In fact, manufacturers offer BTE casings to match your hair or skin color, adding another cloak of invisibility.

Choose Hearing Aids that Fit Your Lifestyle

So, you have lots of options when it comes to invisible hearing aids, though some may be better than others depending upon your hearing loss and physical attributes of your ear. Your audiologist will want to know about your preferences, priorities and life-style and will help you develop a list of pros and cons according to what’s important to you.

For example, if automated convenience is a top priority, you’d probably be better off with a discrete, color-coordinated BTE. Because of its larger casing, designers can fit more automated features into a BTE than in a CIC.

If natural sound is key, then hearing aids with “open ear” technology will deliver the results you’re looking for. In general, most people with hearing loss have choices with regard to the hearing aid style they can wear.

You’ll most likely find a low-profile, discrete appearance you’re looking for in hearing aids regardless of what type you choose. Make sure your audiologist reviews all the options with you and remember that hearing aid purchases come with a trial period of 45 days. Use these 45 days wisely by wearing the hearing aids as much as possible to ensure the fit will satisfy you for years to come.

If you have any questions about hearing loss or hearing aids, please call Dr. Shirley Pollak at Rockaway Audiology and Hearing Aid Center for advice or a consultation.

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