Finding some of the best hearing aids is crucial for an estimated 48 million Americans who deal with hearing loss and its forms. Hearing loss is socially isolating and impacts your quality of life. Most of these individuals are senior citizens or close to that age group, resulting in as many as a third of the 65-74-year-old populace. That statistic rises to half by the age of 75, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.
Hearing loss is a significant health concern since it leads to depression, memory loss, and even Dementia. Treating the condition one of the best hearing aids is the best thing you can do to avoid having more serious issues and being able to live your life better.
What Causes Hearing Loss?
Sensorineural hearing loss is the most common type and it starts from damage to the hair cells in the inner ear. The brain interprets the sound waves received by these tiny cells as you receive them. The most common cause of damage is, of course, aging, and exposure to loud noises at a regular interval.
Some medications and illnesses can also be a factor for hearing loss, along with a history in the family. Sensorineural hearing loss is not reversible, so the only way to get around it is to manage it with one of the best hearing aids recommended below. However, there are some severe cases which will require cochlear implants, so its best to check with your doctor first.
Conductive hearing loss is the second type of condition which results from blockages or build-ups in the parts of the ear. Earwax, fluid from infections, and some sicknesses can block sound, so it should be removed or treated quickly. Hearing aids are only required if hearing loss still persists after treatment.
What Do You Need to Know about Hearing Aids
Hearing aids are built with a microphone on the outside to receive sound, an amplifier to boost it, and a receiver or speaker at the end that goes into your ear. Most of the best hearing aids with modern designs have a computer chip inside which adjusts the volume and pumps up the frequencies your ear requires for hearing. But at the same time, analog hearing aids are less complicated to use, but they are also less common.
Choosing from some of the best hearing aids in the market isn’t as easy as buying them from retailers. There are some factors you have to consider before picking up a specific model, so going to a doctor or a hearing professional which can help you pick and tune the right device is a must. Hearing aids will also never completely correct your hearing loss, but its designed to help with you more crucial aspects of listening such as conversations with your family. In 2020, many more types of hearing aids will be available over the counter.
Best Hearing Aids – Types You Can Buy
Digital hearing aids come in five variants and are categorized by how they are worn by the user. Majority of the 122,000 Consumer Reports members who use hearing aids use mini-behind-the-ear types or mBTEs.
The best-rated brand and retailer according to Consumer Reports is Costco and their Kirkland brand. According to feedback, they have the best selection, options, and expertise which is readily accessible for members. The staff is well-trained to handle your needs, with excellent transparency and customer relations skills. (Pictures are from Consumer Reports)
1. Mini Behind the Ear Hearing Aids (mBTE)
mBTEs go by different names which include receiver-in-the-canal (RIC), Receiver-in-the-ear (RITE), or receiver-in-the-aid (RITA). The names describe how the device is designed, with the receiver or speaker embedded inside the canal. It clings to the ear via a wire and a custom-ade earmold, or a ready-ade dome-style piece.
mBTEs are comfortable and easy to wear since they do not give a disturbing feeling once inserted into your ear. They are also less visible, so conscious users should not worry about having or using one. The main issue for mBTEs is that they are prone fo wax and moisture damage, while the amplification range can be limited for some low frequencies.
2. Traditional Behind-the-Ear Hearing Aids (BTE)
BTEs can also include the RITA variants mentioned above and it describes a device that has all the components in a case behind the ear. Sound is transmitted through a discrete tube that connects the receiver to the earpiece that is worn inside the canal.
BTEs offer the most flexible features with decent low to high-frequency amplification which makes it popular for the more severe cases. Controls are very easy to use on the larger models, while the custom earmold is the easiest to clean. Battery life is also the longest since BTEs have the largest casings which accommodate more powerful batteries.
The main issue with BTEs is that they are very visible unless the earpiece uses a clear material. They are also vulnerable to wax and sweat build-up like mBTEs, but maintenance is generally more accessible. This type is also typically larger, so can cause a plugged-up feeling for some users.
3. Completely-in-the-Canal Hearing Aids (CIC)
What’s preferable about CICs is that they are completely recessed into the ear canal with a tight fit so they are not visible and less sensitive to unwanted sound. This also makes them less sensitive to feedback when used with a fone, but you do need to use the removal string to get it out of your ear canals.
Unfortunately, the small size of CICs also adds some limits, like not being able to add a directional microphone along with an uncomfortable feeling that your ears are plugged up. Battery capacity is also limited and difficult to change, while wax build-up and sweat can cause considerable damage.
4. In-the-Canal Hearing Aids (ITC)
ITCs are the more comfortable alternative to CICs since they do not sit as deep inside your ears. They still are barely visible, but your battery size and the option to add directional microphones become available. Your ears will also feel less plugged up, making this a more comfortable alternative without sacrificing its stealthiness.
ITCs, even if they are bigger, still have smaller batteries than the other types above so you might need to charge or swap them out regularly. Sweat and wax can also be an issue for this type, so maintenance becomes a chore for many users.
5. Traditional In-the-Ear Hearing Aid (ITE)
ITEs have all the functional components in the case which sits on the bowl of your ear. This design offers more options such as an additional telecoil or a directional microphone. Its also the easiest to use and most comfortable, especially after you venting. The main issue with ITEs is that they are more visible, while the smaller telecoils which are compatible tend to be less powerful than those on BTE hearing aids.
Choosing a Hearing Aid Provider
People who suffer from hearing loss usually see Otolaryngologists who are board-certified doctors which specialize in ENT or ear, nose, and throat, conditions. The next step is to see an Audiologist, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration already announced in 2016 that you can go directly to the latter instead of visiting a doctor first.
Audiologists can assess your hearing loss issues to see if there are medical issues involved or if hearing aids are your best solution. These professionals will help you select different settings and customizations according to your needs, making them essential for this very expensive purchase. Audiologists are widely available since many have private practices and standalone clinics, but popular retailers like Costco already have them on staff in some locations.
Another option you can take is to work with a Hearing Healthcare Provider who will help you deal with your concerns. This includes lifestyle and relationship effects, management guidance, and your ability to handle and use hearing aids by yourself.
Hearing Healthcare Provides usually have offices running at suitable business hours. They also offer walk-in repair service and are equipped with sound booths used to assess your needs. After going through this process, the provider will verify the effectivity of your new hearing aid and schedule annual appointments to continually evaluate your treatment.
How to Save Money When Buying Hearing Aids
The biggest caveat of hearing aids is that they aren’t affordable and readily accessible for the majority of the population. These tips can help you find the best and most alternative way to gaining back your hearing ability:
- Insurance Coverage – Most insurance companies do not cover hearing aids, but some individuals like federal workers, veterans, and children can qualify. Residents of Arkansas, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island can also avail of insurance coverage, which will save up to $3450 per individual or $6900 per family.
- Contracts – Make sure the contract that comes with your hearing aid purchase allows for a generous money-back amount if the device doesn’t suit you. Look out for trial period lengths, warranty and its coverage, plus loss or damage coverage.
- Buy with Practicality – Some hearing aids offer extra features, but it will make the hearing aid more expensive. Make sure that you get to test both economy and premium hearing aids before deciding, so you can determine if you can save money by skipping the extras.
- Negotiate the Price! – It’s not very common, but some Consumer Reports readers reported that they succeeded in getting discounts from their audiologists. Canvassing from different practitioners will also help you get a better price.
- Deals – Popular retailers like Costco almost always offers free screenings and competitive pricing on their Kirkland hearing aids. There are also some online deals during holiday sales, but seeing the in-house audiologist is always a must to get the purchase right the first time around.
- Organizations and Charities – Some government, state, and independent groups such as the Lions Club offer financial assistance or associate discounts for those in need, so they are worth checking out.
- Personal Sound Amplification Products (PSAPs) – PSAPs are over the counter products with lesser features and functionality, but they are considerably more affordable. Devices such as the Octofonix Elite Hearing Aid or the Empower Hearing Amplifier cost around 10%-20% of the price of an actual hearing aid, making them worthy of consideration.
- Alternatives -You can also use other assistive options on everyday gadgets such as TVs and smartphones. New models usually have applications and earbuds which can be used to help you hear. You can also find amplified or visual versions of basic household items like clocks, doorbells, and telephones.