Navigating the Hearing Aid Maze: Shopping for a Provider First, Hearing Aid Second
By Paige Peterson, AuD, PhD, CCC-A, FAAA, ABA
February 04, 2014
Category: Hearing Loss


    Let’s face it, once you hit a certain age your mail box becomes littered with the inevitable hearing aid advertisements.

  • “Save BIG on High Quality, DIGITAL Hearing Aids, this week only!!”
  • Free Hearing Test, Otoscopy, and Two-week Trial Period!  Come in TODAY 
  • “Skip the Office - Cheap Online Hearing Aids.”

Do these sound familiar? My guess is yes.  My typical patient comes into my office telling me that they hear just fine, it is the mumbling of family members, poor room acoustics, the quality of telecommunication signals or their spouse being in a different room that is giving them issues. Now, I will readily admit that some of these do play a part in communication difficulties; the reality is that these are all tell-tale signs of hearing loss.

    Historically, one could only purchase a hearing aid through a local hearing aid dealer, a big-box department store hearing aid franchise or an audiologist. Now, hearing aids are being re-labeled as “personal sound amplifiers” as well as other things to get around the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations requiring hearing aids to be prescribed and dispensed by trained professionals. With online vendors, insurance companies, mail-order vendors, Cabela’s and Wal-Mart entering into the picture things are getting more and more confusing. So, where in the world do you start?

How to Compare in Your Search for Hearing Aids?

    In today’s age, I don’t know a single person who doesn’t shop around for everything from an alarm clock to television to even your doctor. Websites like CNET, Yelp, Angie’s List,  Amazon and Cars Direct make the world seem somewhat transparent when it comes to buying goods.  My friend wears Brand X hearing aids, they get good reviews on Consumer Report, so that is what is best for me, right? NO! Hearing aids cannot be purchased solely on technology reviews, friend recommendations or cosmetic reasons because:

1)      Nothing is Free and Trial Periods set you up to Fail.

The advertisements that say you get a free hearing test or otoscopy? Yeah, well most of the time the people you think are testing   your hearing are only screening you because they are not allowed by law to give you a full diagnostic hearing test to determine the origin of your hearing loss. This is a big deal. Maybe your hearing loss is from a growth in your middle ear, a tumor or just plain old hearing loss. Wouldn’t you like to know? Also it is good practice to look into an ear before you put something into it. Otoscopy is standard practice and not a billable code, so it is always “free” in the sense of the word.  Research shows that it takes a minimum of 30 days for your brain to accept a new signal. A “Trial Period” of two weeks sets you up for failure. Your brain is still in  “Fight or Flight” mode.

2)      Everyone’s hearing loss is unique to them.

The damage pattern on your inner ear (sensory cells) and perhaps a combination of neural and amplifier complications make your loss quite different than your friends/family. Not every hearing aid works the same. They all process sound differently; you need to find the technology that YOUR brain likes the best.

3)      Not every style is made for EVERY hearing loss.

Plain and simple. If you have great low frequency hearing WHY would you put something down in your ear canal that plugs your head up? Physics is simply not your friend here, and I don’t care who says they can get rid of the “head in the barrel feeling” completely, they are lying. If you are wearing an aid that doesn’t belong with your type of hearing loss, you probably will end up hating it.

4)      There are six (6) main hearing aid manufacturers in the world.

That’s it, six. They own just about every other hearing aid manufacturer on the planet. And they make money by rolling their now “old” technology down the hill. They rebrand for wholesalers like Costco and Sam’s for a smaller price tag, but it is not the same   aid as the parent company. Don’t fall for that. If you are going to compare apples to apples, compare the new technology from the main six manufacturers. You cannot and should not compare old to new technology. Yes the older stuff is cheaper, but you will be buying a new one sooner than you’d like.

5)      Not everybody needs the Mercedes-Benz of hearing aids.

Your lifestyle and communication needs may not warrant it. If you want the premier hearing aid, that is one thing. But realistically most people don’t need that to see maximum benefit. This is where it is important to talk to a qualified professional about hearing aids and not a sales man. You wouldn’t show up to Wal-Mart for knee surgery would you? No, you’d go to an orthopedic surgeon. Believe it or not hearing aids are the same way, go to someone who has the education and credentials to help you.

6)      Hearing aids do NOT work like glasses.

You have probably had hearing loss for a while now. Typically it is gradual, and we only seek help when it starts to impact our quality of life. Chemically nerves work quite similarly to a muscle.You wouldn’t expect to run the Boston Marathon overnight if  you’d been sitting on the couch for ten years would you? No, so why do you expect that of your brain when you put hearing aids on? You are going to need adjustments and an acclimatization period for your brain to accept the new signal.

7)      All hearing aids are digital.

They have been since about 1996. Don’t go somewhere because they offer the promise of digital technology. In today’s market, it is just a buzz word to get you in the door.

8)      I just paid $10,000.00 for hearing aids.

No you didn’t. This is a common thought and nothing could be farther from the truth. No hearing aid costs that much. At most, the providers cost for hearing aids averages $2000. So for a set maybe $4000 in actual hearing aid costs. The remainder is the services. Now these are important for the first 45 days or so. You need the fitting, adjustments and additional testing to show for a fact that you are getting benefit from the aids. But they then tell you that you get services for two years? One year? You are essentially paying up front for services that you will never use. So ask about these. Or worse yet, you are buying them online or for what you think is a great price, but you don’t get real in-person, competent adjustments. There is a big difference between where my computer thinks your hearing aid should be programmed and what actually gives you benefit.


So what do I look for? 

    Simple, providers with the highest expertise and credentials.  I hope that by now you are starting to see that when it comes to treating your hearing loss, it is not just the technology of the device that is going to help you. It is the knowledge and the skillset of the person who is fitting the hearing aid that is the most important. Believe it or not, there is a LOT of physics, knowing why you change the settings you do, understanding of the anatomy and physiology of the ear as well as the brain and how the device is going to interact with that that leads to your success. In recent news the New York Times, Hearing Loss Association of America and the Food and Drug Administration have  released articles and announcements that have been targeted to the hearing loss population. They all agree, you can buy the most advanced technology on the market at the lowest price, but if the person behind the computer doesn’t know what they are doing it won’t do you any good.


Paige Peterson, AuD, PhD, CCC-A, FAAA, ABA


Dr. Paige Peterson is an Audiologist at Great Hills ENT in Austin, TX and specializes in hearing related disorders including tinnitus and hearing loss, neurophysiological disorders as well as dizziness/balance disorders.  Dr. Peterson is Board Certified in Audiology and is currently accepting new adult and pediatric audiology patients. Great Hills ENT serves the greater Austin area including the Arboretum, Georgetown, Cedar Park, Lago Vista, Jonestown, Steiner Ranch, Lakeway, Spicewood and Point Venture. We are proud to provide excellent care to our patients for general Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) services, hearing loss, hearing aids, dizziness/vertigo and sleep disorders.