If you are concerned about your hearing or think that you may need hearing aids, the first thing you should do is to contact your GP. They will be able to check the health of your ear and can refer you to an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist who can rule out any serious causes of your hearing problems, such as illness or infection.
They will also be able to find the cause of your hearing loss. If your hearing loss is caused by an obstruction or perforated eardrum it may be treatable. You may be offered a hearing test which will not only determine how well you can hear, but it can also show the type of hearing loss you have and what is causing it.
Once you know if you need hearing aids, you will need to decide whether to opt for private aids or aids through the NHS.
Here are some things to consider when making your decision.
The most obvious difference between NHS and private hearing aids is the cost. NHS hearing aids are free to those with hearing loss whilst private hearing aids can range from a few hundred pounds to a few thousand. With NHS hearing aids you will also get free batteries. You can either collect them from your nearest hospital or clinic or you can have them posted to you. Should your hearing aid break down due to normal wear and tear it will be fixed for you at no cost. At the end of the hearing aid’s life, usually five or six years, a new one will be provided for you.
It should be noted that NHS hearing aids are only on loan, and that they will always remain the property of the NHS, so if it is lost or damaged you will have to cover the cost, just as you would if you bought private hearing aids. They can usually be added to your household contents policy or you can take out a separate insurance policy.
As previously mentioned, the cost of private hearing aids can vary greatly. This is due to the variety of styles as well as the different technology available. When discussing prices with your hearing aid dispenser always ask what is included in the price. Find out the cost of replacement batteries and tubing as well as equipment to keep your hearing aid clean and in top working order. Will you have to pay for follow up appointments if you need an adjustment made? Find out what technology you are paying extra for, whilst new technology is exciting, make sure that you are not paying for programs and settings that you will never use.
The NHS provides BTE or Behind The Ear styles of hearing aid. This is because they are suitable for all types of hearing loss from mild through to severe. They consist of a small box which fits behind the ear containing the battery and sound processor. A small tube links the sound processor to the ear mould or open fitting which sits just inside the ear canal. The open fitting is more discrete and allows air to circulate inside the ear canal.
By getting hearing aids privately you will be able to choose from a much wider range of styles. Receiver in the Canal (RITC) styles still have a box behind the ear but this is much smaller and discrete, the receiver sits inside the ear canal. Because the sound doesn’t have to travel through a tube, the sound quality is much improved. Other styles include full and half shell which fit in the outer ear and In The Canal or Invisible In Canal which, as the name suggests, fit inside the ear canal and are the smallest and most discrete hearing aids you can buy.
In the past only analogue hearing aids were available through the NHS. Now digital hearing aids are also available. This allows them to be fine tuned to a person’s exact hearing loss. They have different settings allowing the user to reduce the amount of background noise and focus on sound in front of them.
The range of technology available for private hearing aid users is much wider. Whilst all digital hearing aids use multiple channels to process sound and improve clarity, many private hearing aids contain more channels and greater processing power. This will, of course, depend on the style of hearing aid you choose. The smaller hearing aids will contain smaller sound processors.
There is a much wider range of programmes to choose from which you can mix and match to suit your lifestyle. Directional microphones can recreate a surround sound effect which helps you to work out the direction that sound is coming from. Other programmes can help you to cope in noisy situations with voice recognition, help you to listen to music or talk easily on the phone.
Wireless technology allows two hearing aids to communicate and synchronise their settings and volume. You can change your settings with a discrete remote control.
The introduction of a low powered Bluetooth platform has allowed hearing aid users to fine tune their hearing aid settings using their iPhone as a remote control. Special iPhone apps also allow users to stream music and phone calls directly to their hearing aids without the need for additional sound streaming equipment.
The waiting times for a hearing test and hearing aid fitting vary greatly between private services and the NHS. Although the NHS waiting times are getting much shorter you may still have to wait around six weeks for your hearing test and another six weeks for the hearing aids to be fitted.
A private hearing aid company will usually be able to carry out the hearing test and consultation much sooner. The wait for a fitting will depend on the type of hearing aid you choose, however this isn’t usually longer than a few weeks.
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You may be able to hear people but not understand everything they are saying, making you feel out of sync with the conversation. You might get the wrong end of the stick in conversations and get frustrated with people. If the subject changes without