Is a Hearing Aid Going to Improve My Hearing?
Hearing aids provide a significant boost to the quality of life for many of those with hearing loss, and in most cases, a hearing aid can improve hearing substantially. How much it can compensate depends on the nature of your hearing loss.
Hearing Loss: Background
One of the most important stats regarding hearing loss is that only about 16% of those aged 20 to 69 who would benefit from hearing aids wear them, and of those aged 70 and above, less than a third of those who would benefit have ever worn hearing aids. This doesn’t include those who wear them intermittently or have had them and refuse to wear them again.
However, the improvement in quality of life can be dramatic, and the best hearing aids are carefully balanced for your needs.
Most long-term hearing loss is sensorineural. Essentially, this means that the tiny hair cells in the inner ear (the cochlea) have been damaged or are partially missing. For those born with hearing loss, it could be either, but for those who have age-related hearing loss, it’s normally due to damage. This is impossible to reverse, but you can mitigate it using hearing aids.
Hearing loss due to other reasons, such as conductive hearing loss (which usually means a problem with the outer or middle ear), may be reversed by surgery or medication. In this case, hearing aids may not be a suitable option, particularly for temporary hearing loss caused by conditions such as glue ear, when the middle of the ear canal fills with fluid that gets thick and glue-like over time.
Some forms of hearing loss are a mixture of conductive and sensorineural across the entire ear. In these cases, hearing aids can improve hearing and are typically the preferred option.
How Much Hearing Can a Hearing Aid Restore?
In theory, a hearing aid could fully restore hearing, especially in cases of mild hearing loss. In practice, that rarely occurs, and by the time most people start thinking about hearing aids, they have moderate to severe hearing loss. Someone with severe hearing loss will never get 100% of their hearing restored, but even a small increase can improve their quality of life substantially.
It’s important to make an appointment with a skilled audiologist so they can determine how much of your hearing can be restored with a hearing aid. Hearing aids that are poorly configured — especially those catering toward higher amplification levels — can make sounds much louder than necessary. Loud sounds cause pain, and even if the inner ear can’t transmit all the sounds to the brain, the middle and outer ear still respond to sound in the same way. This means loud sounds are still painful because they cause the eardrum and the three tiny bones in the middle ear to vibrate uncomfortably. Hearing aids can compensate to a certain extent, but if they go anywhere near the sound pain threshold (around 110 dB), they cause discomfort and may even cause further damage.