Struggling to Hear?
Tiny Devices Can Keep You Connected
Many people slowly lose their hearing as they get older. Not being able to hear well can make it hard to communicate. That can affect your relationships, emotional well-being, and work performance.
For those who need them, hearing aids can help. These electronic devices are worn in or behind the ears. They make sounds louder. Close to 29 million adults could benefit from hearing aids, yet only 1 in 4 of them has ever used one.
An exam of your ears, nose, and throat might detect a physical reason why you’re not hearing as well. You may want to start by talking with your primary care provider or an ear, nose, and throat doctor, also known as an ENT or otolaryngologist.
A doctor can look for ear wax, an infection, injury, or other reason for hearing loss. A hearing test can show the type and amount of hearing loss. For a hearing test, your doctor may refer you to an audiologistA hearing care professional who can identify hearing loss, measure it, and suggest treatment options..
If ear wax or an ear infection is the cause, the hearing loss may be temporary. Other causes, such as nerve damage, may lead to more permanent hearing loss. Nerve damage can be caused by loud noises, as a side effect of certain medicines, or for other reasons. Hearing aids may help in these cases.
Some people don’t want to try hearing aids because of how they think it might look to others. “Hearing loss is far more obvious than a hearing aid,” says Dr. Kelly King, an NIH hearing health expert. “The hard work people do to compensate for their hearing loss, and the mistakes they sometimes make when communicating, make the loss more noticeable to those around them than a hearing aid.”
And now, advances in technology are making hearing aids less visible. “One of the biggest changes that has taken place in the last 15 years is a major reduction in the size of these devices,” King says. Some can be hidden inside the ear canal. Others are worn over the ear.
Choosing the best device for you will depend on factors like cost, features, and your amount of hearing loss. Today’s hearing aids offer different features. For example, some can connect to your mobile phone, TV, and other devices using Bluetooth technology. That means you can talk on your phone and stream music directly to the speakers within the hearing aids without wires.
It’s important to understand that hearing aids can’t restore your hearing the way that reading glasses correct vision. Instead, a hearing aid can help you make the most of your remaining hearing by making sounds louder. If it’s been a while since you’ve heard the soft sounds of speech, your brain may need time to re-learn and translate those sounds for you.
Do you think you may need a hearing test? Take the quiz in the Wise Choices box to help you decide.
NIH Office of Communications and Public Liaison
Building 31, Room 5B52
Bethesda, MD 20892-2094
Editor: Harrison Wein, Ph.D.
Managing Editor: Tianna Hicklin, Ph.D.
Illustrator: Alan Defibaugh
Attention Editors: Reprint our articles and illustrations in your own publication. Our material is not copyrighted. Please acknowledge NIH News in Health as the source and send us a copy.
For more consumer health news and information, visit health.nih.gov.
For wellness toolkits, visit www.nih.gov/wellnesstoolkits.