FAQs

Q?

What Should I Expect When Using Hearing Aids?

A.

Hearing aids work very well when they are fit and adjusted appropriately to the user’s prescription. Most people do not know that there is an adjustment period for your ears and your brain to reconfigure to incorporate hearing aids (or new hearing aids) into your life. In the beginning this will sound different. Nonetheless, they should be comfortable with respect to the physical fit and the sound quality. They will not restore your ears back to exactly what you may remember from years ago and they are not as good as normal hearing. You may be aware of the hearing aids in your ears. Until you get used to it, your voice may sound “funny.” Some hearing aids have features that make noisy environments more tolerable; however, hearing aids cannot completely eliminate background noise. It is important to have realistic expectation and know what your hearing aids can and cannot do.

Q?

  What is an audiologist?

A.

Audiologists are health-care professionals who evaluate, diagnose, treat, and manage hearing loss, tinnitus, and balance disorders in newborn, children, and adults. Audiologists hold masters or doctoral degrees from accredited universities with special training in the prevention, identification, assessment and non-medical treatment of hearing disorders. Additionally, audiologists must be licensed in the state where they practice, and these hearing professionals are regulated by the Division of Consumer Affairs. By virtue of their graduate education, professional certification and licensure, audiologists are the most qualified professionals to perform hearing tests, refer patients for medical treatment and provide hearing rehabilitative services.

Q?

  How do I know if I have a hearing loss?

A.

Hearing loss often occurs gradually throughout a lifetime. People with hearing loss compensate often without knowing they have hearing loss.
You may have a hearing loss if:

  • You hear people speaking but you have to strain to understand their words.
  • You frequently ask people to repeat what they said.
  • You don’t laugh at jokes because you miss too much of the story or the punch line.
  • You frequently complain that people mumble.
  • You need to ask others about the details of a meeting you just attended.
  • You play the TV or radio louder than your friends, spouse and relatives.
  • You cannot hear the doorbell or the telephone.
  • You find that looking at people when they speak to you makes it easier to understand.
  • You miss environmental sounds such as birds or leaves blowing.
  • You find yourself avoiding certain restaurants because they are too noisy, or certain people, because you cannot understand them.

If you have any of these symptoms, you should see a Licensed Hearing Healthcare Professional (audiologist) to have a formal hearing evaluation. This hearing test, or audiologic evaluation, is diagnostic in nature. A diagnostic audiologic evaluation is more than just pressing a button when you hear a beep! Rather, an audiologic evaluation allows the audiologist to determine the type, nature and degree of your hearing loss. Your sensitivity, acuity and accuracy to speech understanding will be assessed. In addition, the audiologist may test for speech understanding at different volume levels and in different simulated environments. This additional testing may be performed in order to provide the audiologist with an indication as to how successful of a candidate you might be for amplification.

Q?

  Why do I have trouble hearing in the presence of background noise?

A.

Virtually all patients wearing hearing aids complain about background noise at one time or another. There is no way to completely eliminate background noise. Background noise exists and is important to hear in order for the hearing aid user to be involved in their environment. There is no way to completely eliminate background noise since often the “noise” is other people speaking. However, new technology does help to reduce distracting noise and allow you to focus better on the person you want to hear. Remember, when you had normal hearing there were still times when background noise was a problem. It is no different now, even with properly fit hearing aids! The good news is there are circuits and features which can optimize your understanding of speech in those challenging environments.

Q?

  What is Tinnitus?

A.

Tinnitus is an abnormal perception of a sound reported by a patient. This “head noise” is unrelated to an external source of stimulation. Tinnitus is a common disorder affecting over 50 million people in the United States. It may be intermittent, constant, or fluctuant, mild or severe, and tinnitus may vary from a low roaring sensation to a high-pitched type of sound.
Tinnitus is not a disease, but a symptom of another underlying condition – of the ear, the auditory nerve, or elsewhere. The bothersome sound of tinnitus is described differently by different patients. The head noise may be of a low pitch to a high squeal, and it can affect one or both ears. Typical symptoms of these phantom noises are described as:

  • Buzzing
  • Ringing
  • Roaring
  • Ocean waves
  • Hissing
  • Clicking

There are many causes of tinnitus ranging from cerumen (wax) impinging on the eardrum to acoustic tumors. Most ear pathologies have tinnitus associated with them. The most common cause of tinnitus is exposure to excessively loud sounds either recreationally (shooting, chain saws, loud music etc.) or occupationally (musicians, pilots, carpenters).

A person with tinnitus should first be evaluated by an otorhinolaryngologist (ENT Doctor) and an audiologist to determine if there is a treatable medical condition causing tinnitus.

Q?

  Dizziness and Loss of Balance

A.

Dizziness is a symptom not a disease. It may be defined as a sensation of unsteadiness, imbalance, or disorientation in relation to an individual’s surroundings. Dizziness or loss of balance is the second most common complaint heard in doctors’ offices. Acute or chronic problems with equilibrium may indicate serious health risks or limit a person’s everyday living.

Equilibrium disorders fall into two categories. The first category is dizziness, vertigo, or motion intolerance that may occur in acute or sharp attacks lasting anywhere from a few seconds to several hours. This condition may be caused or worsened by rapid head movements, turning too quickly, walking or riding. There are several effective treatment options for acute vertigo.

The second category is a persistent sense of imbalance, unsteadiness, or what some people refer to as a loss of surefootedness. Many people believe loss of balance and unsteadiness are a natural result of aging. In fact, fear of falling is a significant health concern of individuals in their later years. Not surprising since the National Institute of Health statistics indicate balance-related falls account for half of the accidental deaths in the population over 65.

Human equilibrium is a complex interaction that requires correct input from our inner ear, vision and somatosensory systems. Ideally, all three signals must then be correctly received by brain in order to maintain our center of gravity. If any one or several components of this complicated system do not work properly, then a loss of stability or movement coordination can occur.

The natural aging process may affect any one or all of these senses as well as the brain’s ability to interpret and react to them quickly. It is very common to hear from someone who has fallen that they saw the curb or step, but were not able to react fast enough or to keep their balance.

With proper diagnosis and therapeutic exercises, known as Balance Retraining or Vestibular Rehabilitation, many older adults can return to a more active lifestyle.
If you are experiencing some of these symptoms, Dr. O’Bell can perform initial testing to determine whether or not the symptoms are related to a hearing problem and if necessary refer you to an appropriate specialist.

Q?

  Helpful Information for Family or Friends

A.

If you suspect or know that the person you are speaking with has hearing loss, please consider the following tips to enhance communication.

  • Sit or stand within three to six feet to maximize audibility
  • Remain at eye level to foster visual cues
  • Gain the person’s attention before speaking
  • Use facial expressions and gestures to give clues to the meaning of your message
  • Raise your voice but do not shout because loud speech may sound distorted
  • Speak slowly and distinctly
  • Use short, simple sentences
  • Rephrase your words if the person does not appear to understand or responds inappropriately
  • Avoid speaking directly into the person’s ear because it can distort your message and hide all visual clues

Q?

  Two Hearing Aids vs. One Hearing Aid

A.

Patients frequently ask us, “Can’t I just treat my really bad ear for hearing loss? Won’t that be improvement enough?”

While we sometimes see patients with hearing loss in only one ear (also known as unilateral hearing loss) typically the factors that have led to the impairment have affected both ears — just to a different degree. In this situation, we find that fitting just one hearing aid usually fails to provide a satisfying sound experience for the wearer.

Hearing well with both ears not only takes advantage of our ears’ critical ability to localize to the sound source, it also helps make speech easier to understand in the presence of noise and aids in reducing fatigue and confusion brought on by difficult listening environments.

Sounds collected by your left ear are initially processed by the right side of the brain, while sounds collected by your right ear are initially processed by the left side of the brain. After they are received, the two sides of your brain work together to organize the signals into recognizable words and sounds. Using both sides of the brain significantly improves the ability to decipher speech and to attend to the sound or voice you really want to hear.

In addition, using more of your brain to focus on the sound you want to hear is tremendously important in overcoming one of the primary complaints of individuals with hearing loss: hearing among background noise.