Hearing loss can significantly impact your overall health and quality of life, which can include social isolation and feelings of frustration when it becomes challenging to keep up with normal conversations. But you’re not alone.
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, about 15% of Americans 18 and over report difficulty hearing, and 28.8 million U.S. adults could benefit from hearing aids.
Among those who could benefit, less than 30% of those 70 and older and approximately 16% of those 20–69 have used hearing aids.
While hearing aids require an adjustment period, treating your hearing loss can allow you to hear sounds you might not have heard in a while and communicate more easily.
Our Reviews Team created this guide so you can understand the benefits of hearing aids and decide if they are right for you.
Benefits of hearing aids
Hearing loss can lead to a number of health problems, like atrophy (wasting away) of the brain.
Atrophy can lead to more serious health complications and challenges, including dementia, seizures, disorientation, loss of coordination, and difficulty communicating.
Social isolation is another common occurrence with hearing loss that can lead to depression. Unfortunately, people with difficulty hearing may be less likely to initiate or continue conversations with others.
Hearing aids can help with these challenges. When you improve your hearing, you exercise your brain more, and decrease your risk of atrophy. You’re also more likely to have more social interactions with improved hearing.
Other benefits of hearing aids include:
Benefits of using two hearing aids
If you only have hearing loss in one ear, one hearing aid will suffice. But if you have hearing loss in both ears, research shows wearing one doesn’t allow your brain to work as efficiently picking out sounds you need to hear, which means understanding speech can be more difficult.
When you wear two hearing aids, you enhance your ability to locate where a sound is coming from. The brain processes the time, loudness, and pitch of sounds to localize them. If these sounds occur on the side without a hearing aid, there is a delay in time, making localization difficult.
This is why if you have hearing loss in both ears, wearing two hearing aids can benefit you in a number of ways:
- Each ear communicates with the brain individually through localized cells on the left or right side. When the cells on the side with hearing loss and no hearing aid are not used regularly, they may atrophy due to the decreased use. This atrophy may result in permanent hearing loss that can’t be helped with hearing aids.
- Many hearing aids have dual microphones. Wearing these hearing aids in each ear increases sound localization and decreases the background noise. During activities such as walking, the ability to hear in each ear allows you to know the appropriate location of cars or other potential hazards.
- Hearing aids can be programmed for each ear, which improves sound processing. Since some people have different levels of hearing loss in each ear, it’s important to adjust the hearing aids to provide the best results on each side.
Limitations of hearing aids
After understanding the potential benefits of hearing aids, consider their limitations to make an informed decision.
- Hearing aids do not restore normal hearing.
Ricky Emerson, a hearing instrument specialist licensed in North Carolina and Virginia, shared that people “may see improvements with hearing aids but not back to 100%.”Adding to this, Rachel Magann Faivre, AuD, owner of Oklahoma City-based Ash Audiology, said: “I tell patients that no matter how good the sound quality is coming from the hearing aid, there’s still damage in their hearing pathway. So, they won’t hear like they did when they were younger, but their hearing will improve significantly.”
- Background noise may increase, which can be distracting. Hearing aids with dual microphones can filter out excess sound in the room and amplify those closest to you. Emerson said, “The amplification of ambient sounds can be perceived as a road in the ear and make conversation difficult.”
- Hearing aids may increase the loudness of your voice and other sounds. The increased volume may be irritating to some. Fortunately, adjusting the settings of the hearing aids can help.
- It may require several months to get used to your hearing aids as your brain adjusts to the new amplified sounds.
- Hearing aids can be expensive, and the cost may not be covered by Medicare or other insurance. To avoid surprises, check with your insurance carrier before purchasing.
- While hearing aids serve as hearing loss treatment, they can’t slow the progression of nerve or age-related hearing loss.
“Hearing aids are not cures. If total hearing loss is present, those people will not benefit from their use,” Emerson said.For hearing loss so profound a hearing aid is no longer helpful, Magann Faivre noted, the next step may be a cochlear implant, which can treat people with unilateral hearing loss, one-sided deafness, and other conditions hearing aids may not be able to treat.
Who benefits from hearing aids?
Older adults experiencing age-related hearing loss
Structures in the inner ear change as you age, resulting in age-related hearing loss.
Age-related changes also occur in the middle ear and the pathways from the ear to the brain, which impacts hearing.
People with jobs that damage their hearing
Occupational hearing loss occurs when you are consistently exposed to noise levels above 85 decibels. One in eight workers in the United States has hearing loss, with 22 million people exposed to hazardous noise at work each year. Additionally, among those with hearing loss, occupational exposures are the cause for one in four people.
These individuals may work in one or more of the following jobs:
- Construction workers
- Professional musicians
- Veterans and military personnel
- Truck drivers
- Law enforcement officers
People with hobbies that damage their hearing
As with occupational exposure, extended exposure to noise levels while participating in various hobbies leads to hearing loss. Proper hearing protection is crucial when participating in these activities:
- Shooting: Recreational firearm decibel levels are typically above 140 decibels and can reach 175 for large-bore rifles and pistols. Exposure to these levels can permanently damage hearing.
- Motorcycles and dirt bikes: These vehicles can reach decibel levels of 80–110.
Noises the rider is exposed to include sound created by the exhaust, engine, and wind.
- Concerts or sporting events: While these activities are fun, decibel levels can reach 94–110.
Musical performers, concertgoers, and those attending sporting events will likely experience some ringing in the ears after these events. This indicates the hearing pathway has incurred some damage, noted Magann Faivre.
When and why do people get hearing aids?
Nearly one in three people aged 65–74 experience hearing loss and require hearing aids to treat their hearing loss.
Others may require hearing aids earlier due to excessive noise exposure from their occupation or hobbies. It’s important to remember choosing to get hearing aids can be a difficult decision for some, particularly if you feel self-conscious about others seeing the devices. “For new users, I always discuss their motivation to hear better,” said Magann Faivre. “Because hearing aids don’t restore hearing but rather act as an ‘aid,’ and they require a commitment to wearing them daily, the patient needs to be motivated to want to wear them and hear better. A spouse or loved one pushing the patient to get hearing aids never works, and the hearing aids often end up in a drawer after a few months.”
People seek out hearing aids for various reasons. Some may have recently undergone a hearing assessment and were informed they have some degree of hearing loss. Others may have noticed they’re turning on the television or radio louder than they used to. Difficulty understanding conversations, particularly in crowded settings, can also encourage a person to research their hearing aid options. Often, a spouse is the driving force, noted Emerson.
“We hear with our brains and not with our ears,” Emerson said. “Going without hearing aids when you need them can impact balance.” In fact, a Johns Hopkins study recently linked untreated hearing loss with a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
Hearing loss becomes more prevalent in older adults, but only one in three older adults who would benefit from hearing aids utilize them.
Hearing loss can also be attributed to exposure to excessive noise in occupations and hobbies.
Those with hearing loss may experience a decreased quality of life, depression, higher risks of falls, and an increased risk of developing dementia. Consistent use of hearing aids has been shown to reduce these risks.
Understanding the benefits and limitations of hearing aid use can help you make an informed decision, so you can treat your hearing loss and improve your overall quality of life.
Have questions about this review? Email us at email@example.com.