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Do homework before buying hearing aids

Wina Sturgeon Tribune News Service

If you’re 50 years or older, you may have noticed changes in your hearing. Maybe the system in your vehicle doesn’t sound as rich and detailed as it once did. Perhaps you occasionally have to ask someone to repeat themselves. You may turn your television up so loud that others in the house complain.

As time goes on, friends may tell you that you’re talking too loud. It can become hard to hear a conversation in a noisy environment. Eventually you may start thinking about hearing aids. But unless you do the necessary research before making this expensive purchase, you may make regrettable mistakes.

A posting on the Mayo Clinic website suggests that before buying any hearing device, start with a checkup. Your hearing loss could be caused by an infection, a tumor or even packed earwax. If your doctor can’t find a cause, he or she may recommend getting a hearing test.

This is where your research starts. First, don’t believe ads that promise to restore your hearing perfectly. Hearing aids can’t do this. They improve your hearing by amplifying sound so it becomes easier to hear, and by lowering the volume of loud noise around you.

There are two types of hearing specialists. One is an audiologist, who is a professional with a degree in the science of hearing. The other is a hearing aid dispenser, who in many states, needs only a high school diploma. Dispensers are in the business of selling hearing aids. To get your hearing tested, go to a licensed audiologist, who may also be a dispenser.

Don’t settle for a “free hearing test” by a dispenser. That free test won’t analyze your hearing loss; it will only tell if you can be “helped” by a hearing aid – which the dispenser will be happy to sell you. An audiologist can diagnose your hearing loss, and is able to recommend the type of device that will help you the most.

Don’t buy expensive hearing aids online. These devices need to be personally fitted to work well, and a follow-up evaluation also will need to be done. An online or out-of-state seller can’t do this.

What about those widely advertised and very inexpensive devices known as Personal Sound Amplifiers (PSAPs)? According to a June 2014 report on consumerreports.org, they are less functional than hearing aids, but they can be a lower-cost solution for people with mild hearing loss who aren’t ready to spring for a prescription hearing aid. But the Food and Drug Administration, according to the same CR report, warns that PSAPs aren’t subject to the same safety and effectiveness standards as hearing aids, so an audiologist should be consulted before using them.

Before signing on the dotted line, ask a few questions. Is there a trial period where you can decide if the model is right for you? Is the model adjustable so its power can be increased if hearing loss gets worse? Does it come with a warranty that covers both parts and labor for a period of time?

Don’t allow yourself to be pushed into buying too quickly. Check online for complaints against the dispenser. Find out everything you can before making a commitment, so that you’ll be satisfied with your hearing aid after you buy it.

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