Happy senior couple seeing a hearing specialist.
 

You’re sitting in traffic with a pounding headache, the kind that feels like an icepick behind the eyes. So you reach for some ibuprofen or aspirin and take a couple of pills. Thirty minutes later, your headache is gone (you’re still stuck in traffic of course–there’s no pill for that yet). We’ve come to rely on this kind of easy-to-access, over-the-counter (OTC) solution, so perhaps it’s no surprise that there are now OTC options for hearing loss.

But there’s a problem. Hearing loss is, usually, a chronic condition–so using an over-the-counter hearing amplifier (even a good one) is a lot like taking ibuprofen for your headache every day, without ever evaluating whether there’s an underlying problem that needs to be addressed, or whether there are better options out there.

You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

We get it – everyone is busy. And getting something quickly to solve a problem is very tempting.

And, thanks in part to new rules rolled out by the FDA, a new batch of OTC hearing devices have improved. But running out and purchasing one without seeing a specialist is putting the cart before the horse. Before you get any kind of solution for hearing loss, you should first determine what’s causing it, whether you need professional intervention, and what your options are. And to do that, you usually need to get your hearing checked.

Why Bother Seeing a Specialist?

People who are struggling to hear will often make the mistake of thinking all they need is to turn things up – make them louder and everything will get better. But hearing is more complicated than that. Whether you’ve noticed hearing loss or not, a hearing screening can tell you a great many things about the state of your ears, and possibly also your overall health (just take a look at all the health issues hearing tests can help detect).

Hearing tests help reveal:

  • Your baseline numbers. This is helpful even if you aren’t experiencing hearing loss. Hearing loss can more easily be detected early–often even before reaching the threshold where you might notice it if you get tested every three years.
  • Whether a device will help – Solutions for minimal hearing loss and severe hearing loss are very, very different and it’s critical to get the right kind of care especially in cases where you’re having difficulty hearing in noisy environments. Seeing a specialist can help you determine before you buy whether a hearing aid or device will help you hear better.
  • What levels of amplification you need. If you’re just struggling to hear high frequencies, why would you turn up the volume on all frequencies? You’d be hurting your ears just to hear the few frequencies you’re missing. Instead, getting a hearing test to calibrate which frequencies need a little love can make a huge difference in your ability to hear complex noise like conversations.

Some specialists are also able to diagnose what’s causing your hearing loss. Sensorineural hearing loss is caused by the degradation of stereocilia in your ears. Conductive hearing loss, on the other hand, is caused by an obstruction in your ears. Which type of hearing loss you’re experiencing will have profound implications for treatment options.

What’s the Best Solution for Hearing Loss?

This is going to sound like a side-step here, but there is no single best solution for hearing loss and trying to find a one-size-fits-all solution may very well backfire. That’s the single most potent benefit you can get from your hearing specialist: a personalized plan designed to maximize your unique hearing potential and prevent future damage.

In many cases, a hearing specialist will suggest a hearing aid if you’re showing signs of even mild to moderate hearing loss. Hearing aids are often the preferred solution because they have more programming options (to customize it specifically to your hearing loss), and they offer better clarity in noisy environments. Even better, new technology, changes in laws and insurance, and competition have made many hearing aids affordable. But whether you end up with an OTC option or a hearing aid, your best first step is to get a hearing test.

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