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New treatments for hearing loss

If you have trouble hearing, listen up. New aids on the market offer discreet—even disposable—ways to improve how and what you hear.

Gone are the days of a clunky, two-piece hearing aid with exposed wires. Today’s single units are small and sleek—yet pack a powerful punch. That’s good news, considering that about one in four people over 55 years old have some sort of difficulty hearing conversations, the television or the sounds of oncoming cars.

Hearing loss occurs when sound waves can no longer reach the inner ear. It can be caused by a punctured eardrum, an infection or earwax buildup. This problem may need to be corrected with medical treatment or surgery. Hearing loss as a result of damage to the inner ear’s nerves, such as by noise, is common with aging and can often be managed with a hearing aid.

Types of aids

A hearing aid is an electronic device that picks up sound waves with a tiny microphone and amplifies those sounds through a mini-speaker. Many models with different features are on the market, so work with a professional to find one that’s right for your needs. (See “Shopping Wisely.”)

The older, analog aids are generally the least costly. Today’s digital aids offer a cleaner, CD-like sound quality. The most advanced digital microchip technology provides better voice recognition, even in the midst of background noise.

Both analog and digital aids come in models that tuck neatly behind the ear or hide in the ear canal. They are also self-contained, with tiny rechargeable batteries and no exposed wiring.

Behind-the-ear aids attach to either custom-fitted or disposable ear molds. Another type of hearing aid attaches to eyeglasses.

“Bionic ear” hearing aids, known as the cochlear implant, are available for people suffering from profound hearing loss. This device is surgically implanted within the ear and relies on an external minicomputer to process sounds.

If you think you may have a hearing problem, talk to your doctor about being tested by an audiologist, who can help pinpoint the type of hearing loss you have and the best way to treat it.

Shopping wisely

Here are some tips to help you choose a hearing aid:

  • Choose an aid for your specific hearing problem. The most expensive model may not be the best one for you. Check several styles and brands.
  • Look for clear sound quality and controls that are easy to operate. Comfort and convenience are key.
  • Keep in mind that extra features usually add to the cost and may not be needed.
  • Buy from a reputable dealer who will make adjustments and repairs as needed.
  • Take advantage of free-trial offers to test several types of hearing aids before you buy one.