Access to high-quality and affordable hearing health care is an urgent public health problem in the U.S., especially for the 37.5 million people already affected by some degree of hearing loss, according to the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.
Severe hearing loss in particular is a life-altering disability, and getting the best care can be a challenge, says Forbes Health Advisory Board member Chad Ruffin, M.D., a board-certified otolaryngologist, ear, nose and throat (ENT) surgeon focused on hearing loss and cochlear implants. When looking for an audiologist to help treat hearing loss, Dr. Ruffin suggests keeping the following details in mind.
“It’s essential that hearing aids be fit using ‘real ear measurements’ (REMs),” he says. “This fitting technique places a microphone between the eardrum and the hearing aid to verify that the hearing aid is fit to the patient’s hearing prescription.” Audiologists adhering to the field’s best practices use REMs when fitting their patients for hearing aids.
Secondly, people with severe hearing loss may benefit from purchasing hearing aids with advanced noise filtration found in “premium” hearing aids, according to Dr. Ruffin. You may also benefit from hearing aids that can work with wireless microphones and other hearing assistive technology. Your audiologist should provide such options following your evaluation and diagnosis of severe hearing loss.
Lastly, many patients with severe hearing loss may actually benefit more from a cochlear implant than a hearing aid, explains Dr. Ruffin. These devices convert sound to electricity and directly stimulate the hearing nerves. They are implanted underneath the skin in a short outpatient procedure. The outside processor looks like a chunky hearing aid.
“When cochlear implants were first introduced 40 years ago, they were reserved for ‘stone deaf’ patients without any residual hearing,” says Dr. Ruffin. “Advances in technology now help those who can hear in a quiet room but struggle significantly when any amount of background noise is added.”
Some hearing health professionals may not realize a person can talk on the phone and still be a cochlear implant candidate, which is important because cochlear implants work best when patients receive them before hearing loss progresses to the “stone deaf” range, explains Dr. Ruffin. One way to ensure that you receive the best care is to find a hearing health professional who works in a program that also fits cochlear implants. Such programs are best equipped to determine when a cochlear implant will provide more benefit than a hearing aid. Patients in these programs are most likely to receive care from professionals who provide the entire spectrum of care.
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