Mail Order Hearing Aids: Eargo

Patients sometimes ask me about Eargo mail order hearing aids. As with anything, there are pros and cons. I couldn’t put it any better or more thoroughly than an audiologist from Arizona, “Doctor Cliff”. Check out this video summary. I tell my patients to go ahead and try it. Just keep your receipt and know that, just like with real hearing aids, the law requires that you be given a 45 day trial period.

How to Clean Your Ears

Eek! There’s a spider in my ear!
My brother called one night because it felt like he had a spider in his ear. First of all, it turns out it wasn’t a spider. It was a little seed. He had been helping on the farm and suddenly it felt like something was moving in his ear. He went to urgent care and they said they couldn’t help him and that he should go to the emergency room. Removing things from an ear canal with a curette or water is something that most doctors do routinely, so that was odd, but whatever. He tried to rinse it out in the sink. That didn’t work and usually it doesn’t because the stream of water is too wide to actually circulate in the ear. A shower head is more likely to work.

Using an Ear Wash Kit
I recommended he try an ear wash kit from the drug store and I gave him one recommendation: Use body temperature water or it will make you dizzy. I also gave him two tips: Pull your ear back to straighten out the ear canal, and place the tip of the bulb in the top of the canal so the water can circulate. What finally worked was straightening the ear canal. This is possible because the outer 1/3 of the ear canal is cartilage while the inner 2/3 is bone. Straightening the ear canal helps the water circulate. Also, the reason a little seed can feel like a spider is because jaw movement causes the cartilaginous part of the canal to change shape a little, so whatever is in the ear canal can move when you smile, open your mouth, or even tilt your head.

Straightening the Ear Canal
To straighten the ear canal, you pull up and back on the ear. You can see how it’s done at 1 min, 10 seconds on this video:

One final tip. Don’t do this if you know you have a hole in your ear drum. If you have pain or it doesn’t work, go see a doctor.

Aural Rehabilitation: Hearing Aids Aren’t Enough

“I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”

Robert McCloskey

Think about how a physical therapist treats someone with a knee injury. They might use a knee brace, but they always give the patient a series of exercises, and the exercises change slowly as their patient gets stronger. Treating a hearing loss is similar because a hearing aid is just an aid. It’s not enough. Sometimes it isn’t even appropriate.

Aural rehabilitation is something audiologists do to help hearing impaired people overcome a hearing handicap. Audiologists do a little bit of it whenever they test hearing or balance. It’s also part of helping someone get used to a hearing aid. It includes diagnosis, counseling related to hearing loss, education on assistive technology, learning communication strategies, giving information on community and non-profit resources, speech perception training, and instruction for family members. The communication strategies can include things like sign language and lip-reading.

Aural rehab is relevant for the 14% of adults who have a hearing loss, but it’s also relevant for an even larger group, family and friends of people with hearing loss. I am currently developing a series of 6 aural rehabilitation classes. It may be offered at SBCC Adult Education, at a retirement community, at the Hearing Loss Association of America meetings, or at a public library. We’ll see. I’ll announce it when the dates are set. Call or shoot me an email if you’re interested.

Technology in Hearing Aids 2019

I made a presentation the the Hearing Loss Association of Santa Barbara. They’d asked me to talk about the latest technology. Here’s a summary.

Helpful New Technology:

1) Help in noise:
– Faster sound processing
– Wireless connection between hearing aid via 2.4 gHz, near field magnetic induction

2) Bluetooth:
– To find lost hearing aids
– To remotely control hearing aids
– To hear cell phone calls, TV, or a remote microphone through hearing aids without a lot of extra devices.
– Stream tinnitus masking apps from your phone or tablet

3) Rechargeable batteries

Important Old Technology:

1) Telecoil for use in looped theaters like the Granada, Lobero, and Arlington

2) Directional microphones for help in noise

Fancy New Stuff That Doesn’t Improve Hearing:

1) Hearing aids that can be adjusted remotely

2) Hearing aids that translate languages

3) Hearing aids that monitor exercise like a FitBit

4) Hearing aids that start the coffee or tell you when you get an email

ASL – American Sign Language

“Everybody’s uptight and they’re always building these walls around themselves. All you can do is try and break down the walls and show that there’s nothing there but people. It’s just like looking in the mirror.”

– John Lennon –

I encourage everyone to learn a language, because there is no better way to understand people than to learn their language. As it turns out, Gallaudet University offers free online ASL classes.

It is good for hearing people to understand that for people who grew up deaf, deafness is not a disability.

It also helps to learn about the history of deaf education. This documentary follows a family and their experience, generation to generation. (After you start the video, you can turn on the closed captions by clicking on the symbol at the bottom of the screen.)

What it Takes to Fit a Hearing Aid

Getting hearing aids is more like getting braces or a custom tailored garment than buying a smart phone. Done properly, it’s very labor intensive. In any medical field there is something called the Standard of Practice. That’s what experts in the field recommend regarding how to do a procedure. For hearing aids, that includes real-ear measurements, speech discrimination testing with the hearing aids on, and speech in noise testing. The problem is, not many audiologists actually follow the standard of practice. A poll published by Hearing Journal found that only 20% of audiologists consistently do real-ear measurements. Here’s a video on real-ear measurements.

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.