ODHHS Information and Technical Assistance Series
Mail Order Hearing Aids
(Source: American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, ASHA)
The ad promises to mail you a hearing aid with "specially fitted" earmolds for "mild to moderate losses." The price is relatively low and mail order is convenient. It sounds too good to be true. What should you do?
Assumptions About Your Hearing Loss
The promises made by such an ad raise a number of concerns. First, the mail order assumes that you know that your hearing loss is mild to moderate, not moderate to severe, or severe. It assumes you have the same hearing loss in both ears; that the loss will not get worse -- or better. It assumes you can tolerate loud sounds and that you don't need adjustments in the power of the hearing aid. The company also assumes that you know that your hearing loss is not medically or surgically correctable.
These assumptions are dangerous. For this reason, evaluation by an audiologist is important prior to purchase of any amplification device.
One Size Does Not Fit All
Second, mail order hearing aid sales imply that a standard "one-size-fits-all" type of hearing aid is appropriate for everyone with a certain type of hearing loss. People, though, have different communication needs. A person in business who needs to understand colleagues talking around a conference table may need a hearing aid with different features than someone who is most interested in one-on-one conversations with family and friends. Children have different listening needs than adults, for example, listening to the teacher in both classroom and small group settings.
Individualized Fitting & Repairs
Third, audiologists typically fine tune hearing aids to the individual's specific hearing needs. Also, many individuals require certain features on their hearing aids, such as a telephone switch, that are not available with catalog orders.
Fourth, any return or repair of a mail order hearing aid has to be done through the mail. Certainly, this procedure is less convenient and takes more time, especially for minor repairs, than seeing an audiologist who can repair or offer a loaner hearing aid, even when the mail order company provides return and repair.
Finally, a "specially fitted" earmold requires that a professional take an impression of your ear. Similar to denture fitting, without an accurate, well-fitted impression, the earmold cannot function to route sound appropriately into the ear. In addition, earmolds come in different types and are chosen based on the individual's type of hearing loss. Some individuals may even require the earmold to be made from special hypo-allergenic materials.
Seek The Services Of An Audiologist
The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) recommends that persons with concerns about their hearing receive an evaluation by an audiologist. An audiologist is a hearing health care professional who holds a Certificate of Clinical Competence (CCC) from ASHA and, in 42 states, will also have a license to practice. Look for the ASHA logo and CCC symbol.
In some circumstances, an audiologist may recommend a hearing aid that is available for purchase through the mail. However, this option should always be overseen by an audiologist who will make sure that the hearing aid sent is appropriate. In fact, in some states it is against state law to order through the mail without going to a professional. It is also important to know that it is against federal regulations to fit a child with a hearing aid without medical clearance.
So, in answer to the question, "Should you order a hearing aid through the mail?", the recommendation is: Ask your audiologist first.
The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) is the national professional and scientific society that represents 81,427 audiologists; speech-language pathologists; and speech, language and hearing scientists. ASHA's mission is to promote the interest of its members, to provide them with the highest quality services, and to advocate for people with communication disabilities. ASHA's Consumer Affairs Division provides an information and referral service on a broad range of speech, language and hearing disabilities for both children and adults.
For additional information on this topic or other speech, language, or hearing disabilities, contact the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, 10801 Rockville Pike, Rockville, MD 20852, 1-800-638-8255 or (301) 897-8682 (Voice or TTY).