When it comes to hearing aids, there are literally hundreds of options available, from very basic entry-level devices to premium advanced technology that can connect to your smartphone and learn your listening preferences. These hearing aids come in different styles, such as open-fit behind-the-ear, completely in-the-canal or receiver in-the-canal. But what’s the best hearing aid for you? The answer is, “That depends.”
With so many options available, a doctoral-level audiologist can help you determine the best technology for your hearing loss, lifestyle, and budget. An audiologist is a degreed professional who specializes in the diagnosis and non-medical treatment of hearing loss, tinnitus, and balance disorders.
What Can Audiologists Do?
- Test hearing and balance
- Prescribe, fit, verify, 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)
Audiologists receive extensive education in hearing and balance disorders. Audiologists have earned postgraduate masters and/or doctoral degrees. A doctoral degree is now required for graduates practicing after 2012. You may look for the initials Au.D., (Doctor of Audiology—clinical degree); or Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy - research and/or clinical research degree) to designate doctoral training.
As part of their four-year doctoral training, these audiologists spend a final year completing an externship experience supervised by a licensed audiologist. The externship provides practical, hands-on, advanced experience.
Why See an Audiologist for Hearing Aid Fittings?
Hearing aids are medical devices regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and must be recommended, prescribed, and fit by state-licensed professionals, such as audiologists. This standard is in place to protect the individual with hearing loss, because not all individuals are candidates for hearing aids.
Start with a Hearing Evaluation
The first step on the road to better hearing is a comprehensive hearing evaluation. Your audiologist should perform a hearing evaluation in a soundproof booth. The results of the evaluation provide the audiologist with the details of your specific hearing loss.
In addition, your audiologist may want to know: Do you have problems hearing high-pitched sounds, or low? Where do you have the most difficulty hearing? In restaurants and crowded venues? And what are the sounds you are missing out on? Do you have problems hearing your grandchildren, your spouse, or the television? Is your lifestyle active or sedentary? Do you have other health conditions that may affect your hearing, like diabetes?
Understanding and being familiar with the many different brands, technological features and styles of hearing aids available is your audiologist’s job. But the answers to these, and many other questions can help guide your audiologist’s recommendations.
Smaller Hearing Aids Aren’t Always Better
Here’s an example of how an audiologist might help with the hearing aid buying process. Patients often think they want the tiniest in-the-canal hearing aids available. Their perception is that these hearing aids are more advanced. But the reality is that the small shell is the case which holds the technology, and not all hearing aid technology can be packed into that tiny space. In addition, many patients are uncomfortable with the “plugged up” feeling they experience when these hearing aids are in place, and they prefer the sound quality and performance of open-fit technology.
At the end of your hearing evaluation, your audiologist should be able to describe your hearing loss to you, if you have one, and should be able to provide you with a written estimate for the recommended technology.
An Audiologist Will Program Your Hearing Aid for You
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. Ultimately, that’s when you get the “best” hearing aid for you, and you’ll be most satisfied with your hearing and communication ability.
Be sure you look for an audiologist with the appropriate education and experience, who offers more than one brand and multiple levels of hearing aid technology, and who has several positive patient reviews online. Read Associated Audiologists’ five-star reviews.