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FAQ About Hearing Aids

ODHHS Information and Technical Assistance Series


Frequently Asked Questions about Hearing Aids
(Source: Oticon, Inc.)
Why can´t I buy hearing aids direct from the factory?
State law limits the dispensing of hearing instruments to licensed dealers and audiologists. Beyond the legal restrictions, the process of matching hearing loss and listening needs to a specific instrument requires proper testing and evaluation and face-to-face counseling by a qualified professional. An analogy would be trying to order medication for hypertension over the phone from a drug manufacturer. Only a properly trained medical professional can achieve the full benefit from technology.
Why are hearing aids so expensive?
Hearing instruments are not expensive in comparison to other family expenditures. The average lifetime of a hearing instrument can be 5-8 years depending on care and maintenance. The average cost of an in-the-canal hearing instrument in 1995 was about $1,000 depending on the sophistication of the electronics. Divided by the lower end of life time (5 years) this computes to $200 per year or $17 per month, just about the same cost as cable TV service.
My sister has a hearing loss, which Oticon is best for her?
There is no "best" hearing instrument for a particular person. What is "best" depends upon personal perception of sound, cosmetic requirements, physical comfort, ease of operation and budget. A qualified hearing professional will recommend several options and allow a person to try them before purchase. No hearing instrument will restore hearing, but today´s modern automatic, multi-channel hearing instruments come closer than ever before. Realistic expectations of hearing are pre-requisite to success with a hearing instrument.
Background noise drives me crazy, isn´t there something that can be done?
Background noise is a fact of life for people with normal hearing or hearing difficulty. Those who hear normally have learned to tune out background noise to listen to conversation. The same is true for people with hearing loss. However some hearing instruments make it more difficult for people to recognize speech or minimize the effect of background noise. A single channel hearing instrument with volume control is the least effective technology for processing the speech signal accurate in the presence of background noise. A multi-channel instrument with automatic loudness feature separates the speech signal and background noise (mostly low frequency sound) into discrete frequency bands. These bands are amplified differently depending on hearing loss, the frequency richness of in-coming sound and loudness. Speech is difficult to understand because of upward spread of masking which means that loud low frequency sounds "mask" soft high frequency sounds necessary to understand speech. Modern hearing instruments maintain balance of low and high frequency loudness so listening is comfortable and speech is clearer.
What is "Digital" all about?
Digital refers to Digital Audio Processing (DAP). A hearing instrument that is truly digital converts an analog sound wave into digital code, a series of 0s and 1s. Specific sections of coded or digitized sound can then be isolated and processed or amplified based upon the specific hearing loss and listening preferences of the user. In addition, a truly digital hearing instrument does not add noise to the signal as it passes through the electronic circuit. A DAP hearing instrument is virtually distortion free. "Digital" is often confused with a "computer" hearing instrument. The latter always refers to the way the controls of the hearing instrument are set using a computer or programming box. This has nothing to do with the way the sound signal is processed which distinguishes a true digital hearing instrument. Today there are only two truly digital hearing instruments on the market, ours is called DigiFocus. It alone uses Digital Audio Processing and a computer to achieve a precise fit to hearing loss and user listening requirements. If your interested in a truly digital hearing instrument be sure it is DAP technology. Ask your dispenser.
What is COSI?
In addition to wonderful new hearing instruments on the market today, much progress has been made in developing tools to help people get the most benefit from technology. One such tool is COSI, Client Oriented Scale of Improvement. COSI was developed by the well known National Acoustic laboratory in Australia. COSI is a self assessment survey that identifies key hearing objectives and tracks improvement over time. COSI clearly shows the improvements that can be gained from using modern hearing technology. The COSI system is available to hearing care professionals at no charge from Oticon.
How can I get DigiFocus and what does it cost?
DigiFocus is Oticon´s new fully digital hearing instrument. Like a computer, DigiFocus uses digital code in a series of 0s and 1s to process sound more accurately than ever before. DigiFocus has the power of a desk top computer inside its small and attractive shell. DigiFocus is available through a network of dispensers across the country who have been specially trained to achieve success with this new revolutionary technology. Oticon Customer Service at 800-526-3921 can help you find a local dispenser. You may also "Ask Oticon" through our interactive Web page feature. The retail price of DigiFocus varies depending upon the level of testing and follow up sessions included in the price.
Where can I get a catalogue of Oticon products?
Consumer information about Oticon products can be obtained from almost any hearing professional in the country. Those who are not familiar with a particular Oticon product can get product technical sheets and consumer literature from Oticon Customer Service.
I´ve heard a lot about the Oticon organization. What´s different about Oticon?
Oticon Inc. was recently honored by Beyond Computing magazine for innovation and leadership in the use of information databases to achieve company mission and business objectives. Oticon, Inc. won the first annual Partners in Excellence Award from Beyond Computing for achieving outstanding service to customers. Oticon´s believes that its business is not defined by how many hearing instruments are sold, but rather by the smiles we put on peoples´ faces. It is the quality of life for people with hearing loss and ease of doing business with Oticon for our customers that drives are company.
I´ve been wearing hearing aids for years, why do they break down so often?
Hearing instruments are delicate electronic devices. Inside a hearing instrument are tiny wires, switches, electronic circuits, a microphone and a speaker. These components are tightly packed inside the instrument and surrounded by a plastic shell. Moisture, corrosion and shock are the enemies of hearing instruments. In normal use a hearing instrument comes in contact with perspiration which is not only watery but also corrosive. Perspiration seeps into the microphone, speaker and electrical switches and contacts (on/off , volume control, direct audio input). Humidity can affect the functioning of filters inside the clear or translucent ear hooks attached to behind-the-ear hearing instruments. These filters change the frequency response of sound produced by the hearing instrument. Excessive humidity can totally block the sound coming through the earhook. If a behind-the-ear instruments stops working, check the battery first. Then unscrew the earhook carefully and use an airbulb to dry out the filter. Ask your hearing instrument dispenser for more information on how to control humidity and moisture. In-the-ear instruments are most susceptible to ear wax which can block the sound tubing attached to the speaker. There are devices like Oticon's WaxBuster, standard on all Oticon ITEs, that are effective in preventing ear wax damage. Shock from dropping an instrument can dislodge the wiring or induce physical contact between components. Both can affect instrument performance. Handle hearing instruments carefully as you would any other delicate device.
Hearing instrument failure due to moisture, corrosion, humidity, ear wax, and shock is generally infrequent. At Oticon the average frequency of service to an instrument over its life time is two or less. Most often corrosion is the problem with BTEs and ear wax with ITEs.
Consumers can purchase extended warranty plans for Oticon and other brands of hearing instruments through hearing instrument dispensers. We offer repair warranties up to five years after instrument purchase. Warranties can be purchased at any time during this period.
How do I know if I have a hearing loss?
You frequently have to ask people to repeat themselves, or have difficulty understanding speech during conversations in noisy areas, when using the telephone, in restaurants and automobiles, or you have trouble understanding dialog in a movie or play.
Hearing problems can occur at any age. Periodic examinations should be given to assess the degree of hearing loss. Annual hearing examinations are recommended for people over 65. Also, the symptoms of hearing loss may be subtle and can go unnoticed for a long period of time.
Are all hearing losses the same?
Sound is composed of an infinite number of frequencies, which makes it possible for us to recognize so many different sounds. But people who are hard-of-hearing have lost the ability to hear some frequencies more than others. To complicate matters, the essential frequencies of understanding human speech are often those frequencies that are lost.
People continue to hear, but not every word that is spoken is clearly understood. The untreated condition is often seen by others as signs of senility, aging or disinterest. Hearing loss is as individual as a finger print; no two hearing losses are the same.
The process is dynamic. Not only is a person´s sound environment changing constantly, but the degree of hearing loss also changes over time. Oticon´s most advanced hearing instruments rely on a successful partnership between provider and user continuing, over time, to adapt the instrument to help with changes in a person´s hearing needs.
Facts about hearing loss
  • 300 million people are afflicted by hearing loss world-wide.
  • 430 million people will have hearing loss by the year 2010, primarily due to the growth of the elderly population.
  • 18% of people between 65 and 74 years old, and 35% of those over 75, have significant hearing loss, 90% of all hearing loss is due to aging.
  • 90% of all hearing losses can be helped with hearing instruments, and 10% can be treated medically and/or surgically.
  • Fewer than 5% of those who could benefit use a hearing instrument.
  • 1% of children in the developed world and 4% of children in the developing world are afflicted by hearing loss.
  • Noise above 80-90 decibels during an eight-hour work day is considered hazardous. This exposure is primarily to industrial noise in the workplace, but can also be to firearms, music, airplanes, lawnmowers, appliances and power tools. In many countries, the legal noise limit at workplaces is 85 dB SPL (sound pressure level), measured as an average during a working day. If the noise level is higher, workers are supposed to wear hearing protectors. A live rock concert may have a sound pressure of approx. 110 dB SPL.
  • 15-20% of workers in the industrialized world are regularly exposed to noise levels above 80 dB SPL, the threshold for hearing impairment.