Back in the old days, folks who were “hard of hearing” used an odd-looking, funnel-shaped device called an ear trumpet that would somewhat amplify sound when held up to the ear. How strange and simple an ear trumpet looks when compared to advanced hearing aid technology today.
Hearing aids have come a long way, says Dr. Dave Harris, director of the SLUCare audiology team, with offices in the Doctors Office Building near SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital and at SLUCare Otolaryngology West County at 555 N. New Ballas Road. Still, many people are unaware of what modern hearing aids look like and what they can do.
“Their experience is with their mother or their grandmother who used to wear them and hated them,” he says. “We need to try to overcome the stigma of getting a hearing aid. If people can use AirPods and think that’s OK, they shouldn’t have any objections to wearing hearing aids.”
New innovations make hearing aids increasingly reliable and better able to treat the unique symptoms of a person’s hearing loss. Aids are more streamlined and easier to use or conceal. They come in different skin tones and are more stylish than they used to be. Technology advances include rechargeable batteries and features like Bluetooth, which wirelessly connects the hearing aid to a smartphone or television. Advances over the past 20 years are nothing short of revolutionary.
“Your hearing is a big deal, and your quality of life is a big deal,” says Dr. Harris, noting hearing aids improve overall well-being by promoting independence, mobility, and social inclusion — keeping the hearing impaired in the conversation.
Consumers should do their homework and seek the advice of an audiologist to balance affordability with the best type of aid for their condition. To help patients make smart choices, Dr. Harris has developed a printable tip sheet, Sound Advice, for first-time buyers or those purchasing a new pair. You can download Sound Advice at slucare.edu/hearingcenter.
Unlike hearing aid retailers, SLUCare Audiology offers a full range of services for ear and hearing care to ensure that patients aren’t missing out on life due to hearing loss. Dr. Harris says it’s important to seek expert care if you have a family history of hearing problems, are regularly exposed to loud noise, have a sudden loss of hearing or ringing in your ears, or when you or your loved ones begin to notice you’re missing out on aspects of conversations around you.
“Our job is to first diagnose to see what type of hearing loss you have and whether it can be corrected medically or surgically. It isn’t just about hearing aids. We also do balance testing and treatment. Some patients have conditions that will cause both,” Harris says.
When hearing aids are the best option, SLUCare specialists are trained to help patients choose the right device for them based on their lifestyle and needs, Dr. Harris says.
“We let them know what type of hearing aids would be best, but we also let them know it’s their decision,” Dr. Harris says. “It really just depends on their lifestyle and what they need the hearing aid to do.”
Dr. Harris recently helped a surgeon choose hearing aids that are fully automatic, so that when he scrubs into the operating room, he won’t have to touch his ear to adjust the device. A judge who had trouble hearing the jurors in his courtroom is now using a device with a remote microphone.
Whatever device a patient chooses, a SLUCare specialist will set it up so that all the patient has to do is wear it — and enjoy hearing what they’ve been missing.
“They say, ‘Wow, these are light, I don’t even feel them,’” Dr. Harris says. “And then they realize maybe they were missing some things.”
SLUCare audiologists continue to work with patients over time to make sure the device is meeting their changing needs. Dr. Harris recommends patients be seen every six months.