America has a hearing problem. According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 28 million people (or 16 percent of all Americans) suffer from some form of hearing loss. Yet despite the debilitating nature of this problem, best estimates indicate that only 30 percent of those who need hearing devices (Hearing Aids, PSAPs and Cochlear implants included) actually use them.
Why are there so few hearing aid users in the U.S.? You might think cost presents the biggest obstacle, but one 2017 study found that isn’t the case. As it turns out, issues like denial, diminished capacity and — most prominently — fear of social stigmatization keep many people from hearing properly.
Misconceptions about hearing aids abound. For example, some mistakenly believe that the devices are overly bulky, that their use requires surgery or that they amplify hearing to an uncomfortable degree. Worse, confusion regarding the differences between sound amplifiers, cochlear implants and hearing aids can dissuade those who have difficulty hearing from seeking to remedy their condition.
To set the record straight, here’s a closer look at these three devices and how they work.
Personal Sound Amplification Products (PSAPs)
Personal sound amplification products (PSAPs) are small electronic devices that intensify sound. They are not classified as medical devices and, as such, they are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. These products are similar to reading glasses in that they can augment or correct your ability to perceive. However, they aren’t designed to actually treat sensory impairment.
PSAPs function by converting sound waves into electrical signals that are boosted by an amplifier, converted back into sound waves and then projected into the wearer’s ear. These devices are intended to help those with mild hearing loss, like people who have a hard time following conversations in public places or listening to the TV.
The biggest appeal of these devices is that they are generally cheaper than actual hearing aids. And, as opposed to hearing aids and cochlear implants, PSAPs can be purchased without a prescription.
However, there are a few drawbacks to PSAPs. Since they can be purchased without medical consultation, PSAPs wearers may be putting a simple bandage on a potentially serious illness.
If you’re experiencing hearing loss, you should schedule an appointment with a medical specialist, such as an ear, nose and throat doctor (an ENT or otolaryngologist) to determine what the underlying causes of your condition may be.
Cochlear implants are surgically implanted medical devices that restore a normal range of hearing to those with deafness or severe hearing loss. They consist of a microphone that rests behind the ear that processes sound and a stimulator that sits in the inner ear.
Cochlear implants work by transforming sound into electrical pulses, which are sent to the inner ear where they stimulate the cochlear nerve. The cochlear nerve then transmits those pulses to the brain, which interprets them as sound.
As they bypass the conventional method by which we process sound, cochlear implants are ideal for anyone whose hearing loss can’t be treated effectively by other means. Cochlear implant technology is relatively new and highly advanced. Accordingly, the cost of a cochlear implant is typically in the five-figure range, although a portion of these costs may be covered by medical insurance.
Modern hearing aids combine aspects of both PSAPs and cochlear implants. They are electronic medical devices designed specifically to improve hearing. They do so by capturing sound waves with a small microphone and converting it into data. This data is modified to fit your local environment and individual hearing needs, then turned back into sound waves that are projected into the ear. Hearing aids are most helpful to those with moderate to severe hearing loss.
As opposed to PSAPs, hearing aids are fitted for use by a hearing aid specialist or licensed audiologist. To operate most effectively, hearing aids must be modulated to address the wearer’s specific level of hearing loss. Consequently, hearing aids can be fine-tuned to amplify specific sounds, like speech, without making ambient noise uncomfortably loud.
Due to advancements in sound amplification technology, most hearing aids are now discreet, durable and powerful. Manufacturers have also added a number of appealing features to these contemporary models. Cutting-edge hearing aids, like the ReSound LiNX™, can connect to various other pieces of personal technology, such as your cell phone, for customization purposes and to provide a seamless, improved hearing experience.
If you have concerns about your hearing and suspect you may need the help of a hearing device, contact the hearing aid specialists at your nearest Hearing Aid Express to schedule a hearing screening. Their friendly, attentive and expert staff have the resources you need to find the hearing solution that’s right for you.