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Affordable Hearing Aids


Probe Microphone Measuring Equipment

Hearing aids are expensive and reviews are mixed. Here we cover insurance for hearing aids, affordable hearing aids, and the factors that go into a successful fitting.

First, Congress made way for mail order “Personal Sound Amplification Products” or PSAPs. The difference between PSAPs is that they can’t be programmed to match your hearing loss, because there is no probe mic testing (see video), they can’t be fine tuned as the brain adapts, and they don’t process noise well.

Second, insurances are covering hearing aids more often now than ever. At one end, there is United Health Care, which partnered with High Health Innovations to provide basic mail order hearing aids. They have the same limitations as PSAPs. In the middle, there is EPIC, that gives a discount of about $1000 for a pair of hearing aids. At the other end, some plans cover the entire cost. Call the number on the back of your card to find out.

And finally, MediCal, the Department of Rehabilitation, and the Veteran’s Administration cover hearing aids for those who qualify. Starkey also has a program called Hear Now for people who can not afford hearing aids.

We are providers for Epic, Blue Shield, Anthem, MediCal, and the Department of Rehab. I anticipate being a provider for the VA on October 1st.

You know you need a hearing aid when ….

A patient of mine wrote this on his FB page:

“Today I was at Ace Hardware, looking for a specific item, while humming along with “Sounds of Silence”. I gave up looking, and found a clerk.

Me: Excuse me, could you tell me where I can find…

Clerk: I can’t hear a word you’re saying.

Me: I’m looking for…

Clerk: It’s the music. I can’t hear you. There is music coming out of you someplace.
Me: What??? Isn’t that the store’s music?

I reached in my back pocket, and Pandora was on my phone, playing that Simon & Garfunkel tune. The clerk looked at me, shook his head, and walked away while I was trying to silence the Sounds of Silence. He failed to see the irony. They didn’t have what I was looking for, either.”

Noise harms more than the ears.


“Calling noise a nuisance is like calling smog an inconvenience. Noise must be considered a hazard to the health of people everywhere.”

– William H. Stewart, former U.S. Surgeon General

Noise isn’t just annoying. It isn’t just bad for your ears. It’s bad for your health. Noise causes higher blood pressure and cortisol levels, which leads to heart disease. Students learn less and workers make more mistakes when exposed to too much noise in the environment. Research continues on the effects of noise on the immune system and birth defects.

The New York Times published an article on noise in NYC establishments. “The New York Times measured noise levels at 37 restaurants, bars, stores and gyms across the city and found levels that experts said bordered on dangerous at one-third of them.” Some restaurants were simply unaware of the danger and pledged to look into it. Restaurants like to play loud music because it makes people eat faster and leave sooner, so significant change is unlikely. (If you’re looking for a quiet(er) place to eat in Santa Barbara, check out my patient-recommended restaurant list.)

As I was investigating this, I actually found an organization called Quiet Communities, whose mission is to make communities quieter. I love that.

The History of Oticon Hearing Aids


Acousticon Hearing Aid invented by Miller Reese Hutchison

Oticon began with a Danish man named Hans Demant in 1903, who wanted to help his hearing impaired wife. The popular Queen Alexandra of Great Britain had worn the first portable hearing aid at her coronation the year before and Hans traveled to England to buy one for his wife. Motivated to help others with hearing loss, he began importing them to Denmark. Eventually Oticon began manufacturing their own hearing aids in 1940.

Every hearing aid manufacturer seems to focus its engineers on a particular task. Most recently, Oticon spent its energies developing a faster processor. The theory is that it can handle noise better, especially when dealing with multiple talkers. While it’s not the hearing aid for everyone, I have been impressed with the results in the patients I have chosen it for. For all you engineers and, what my dad calls “tinkerers”, here is an explanation of what they did.

Hearing Aid Manufacturers

I love history, so I thought I’d start a series on the history of a few major hearing aid companies. I can fit, repair, and reprogram just about any hearing aid from any company, but these are the ones I work with most often. Stay tuned. Next week I’ll dive into Oticon’s history. This week I’ll keep the blog post short. Carol, my husband, and my kids all say I should learn to take a break. My husband even got me a rocking chair one Christmas as a hint.

Oticon: 1905, Denmark
Phonak: 1947, Switzerland
ReSound: 1984, USA
Siemens: 1910, Germany
Starkey: 1963, USA
Widex:1956, Denmark

Audio Spectrum Explained

A patient of mine just told me about a website that explains the audio spectrum, audio production, microphones, sound waves, sound perception, and more: Teach Me Audio: No nonsense guide to Audio Production. Speech is between 250 and 8000 Hz, so those are the frequencies that get tested in an audiogram. (Actually, sometimes I test higher than that if someone is starting chemotherapy. Chemo is ototoxic and the toxicity shows up first in the ultra high frequencies. So I test above 8kHz before and at intervals after chemo. If hearing drops above 8 kHz, the oncologist knows chemo has reached ototoxic levels and they may choose to tweak the dosage a bit.)

While the whole website is fascinating, the Audio Spectrum page can help you check your hearing aids. If you can’t hear part of the frequency range between 250 and 8000 Hz when you’re wearing your hearing aids, they may need to be reprogrammed.

Tinnitus

Tinnitus means noise in the ears or head. Hearing aids can help a LOT. Either the amplification of a hearing loss masks the tinnitus, or a tinnitus masker reduces stress by competing with it. It doesn’t seem like adding more sound to the tinnitus would help, but it does. One of my patients said, “It’s like it competes with the tinnitus, so it sort of keeps it in it’s place. Most manufacturers include a tinnitus masker in their hearing aids. Widex makes one that is particularly effective. Here are samples of the some of the masking “noises” it makes.

Sand
Aqua
Green
Lavender
Coral

Everyone’s experience is different. It can sound like ringing, buzzing, or whistling, among many other sounds. It is often just a minor annoyance, but not always. Sometimes it’s severely stressful, even to to the point of causing serious depression. William Shatner shared his experience when he was the spokesperson for the American Tinnitus Association.