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Hearing Aids on the Web: Click with Caution

You can buy anything on the World Wide Web – including hearing aids. Even really good hearing aids. But ask yourself this: would you buy a 52” HD flat screen TV for $4,000 without at least looking at the picture in person?

Would you buy a sofa online if you hadn’t sat on it to see if it was comfy? The fact is, the Internet is great for consumer education, researching, comparison shopping and browsing.

For the hearing aid consumer, the Internet serves as a wonderful resource tool when researching hearing loss and hearing aids. And now, as mentioned, hearing aids can be purchased online.

The cost of hearing aids is often cited as a primary reason for people with hearing loss not purchasing hearing aids; however, they know hearing aids will help them hear and lead a better life. Because of the cost combined with a lack of insurance coverage, many are in search of the best or cheapest deal.

Ok, purchasing hearing aids on the Internet may possibly save a few hundred bucks up front, but keep in mind that you may be sacrificing listening experience, wearing satisfaction and hearing safety. In fact, the money you saved by going online will more than likely end up being spent (and then some) when you are in need of reprogramming and follow-up care from a hearing professional in order to get satisfaction from your aids.

Hearing Aid Manufacturers Caution

Many leading hearing aid manufacturers do not sell their products to Internet retailers and have recently placed alerts on their Websites warning consumers to purchase hearing aids directly and only from qualified and trained hearing professionals.

hearing aids on the internet
Hearing aid manufacturers caution to purchasing online

The words of caution are there to protect the consumer from purchasing hearing aids that may not be appropriate for the hearing loss and may not be the “real deal”. One aspect of the hearing aid fitting process believed to be vital to a successful fitting is the role of a hearing care professional.

Hearing aids are programmed via a computer specifically to a hearing aid wearer’s lifestyle needs as well as to the individual’s exact hearing loss across the various pitches tested. And although hearing aids can be ‘factory fit’ for a particular hearing configuration (yet not all Internet retailers even require the hearing test), they will still require ongoing adjustments based on the hearing aid wearer’s unique listening needs and demands. Would you trust a hearing aid – a medical device – to be programmed for you by someone unknown?

Hearing Aids: Why purchasing face-to-face is important

1. A hearing professional will evaluate your hearing loss and assist in determining the best hearing aids based on your hearing loss and unique needs. This is a critical aspect of any hearing aid purchase: what is the extent of the hearing loss and in what frequencies is the loss most severe. Physical exam of the patient’s ear and specific hearing loss influences the best model or size a hearing aid wearer should be wearing. This is Step one.

Step two? Finding the best hearing aids to address your particular preferences, listening demands (lifestyle), hearing loss and, of course, wallet.

A pair of quality, top-of-the-line hearing aids can set you back $4,000 or more; however, most hearing aid manufacturers have a complete line of hearing aids to fit every lifestyle and budget.

Discussing your unique listening demands with your hearing professional will determine how sophisticated your hearing aids should be and what type of features/technology should be selected in order for you to get the most from them. Perhaps you do not need all the bells and whistles and a more basic model can be chosen. Or perhaps you lead a busy lifestyle and require the top of the line hearing aids to ensure you are connected and handling every environment you find yourself in.

Unfortunately, when you buy hearing aids online, there’s no professional there to guide you based on your hearing loss and listening needs. So, the chances are pretty good that you’ll buy the wrong hearing aids for your needs and lifestyle – and complain about it everyday.

Before buying any hearing aid, have a hearing evaluation performed by a licensed, certified ear pro – an audiologist or hearing instrument specialist.

2. Digital hearing aids are programmed and adjusted by trained professionals. Digital hearing aids are much more sophisticated than over-the-counter amplifiers and the cheap hearing aids you see in magazines. Quality digital hearing aids are programmed differently at each frequency based on the amount of hearing loss to provide adequate amounts of amplification for each frequency independently.

Digital hearing aids also employ advanced signal processing features such as noise reduction, feedback suppression and directional microphones. All of these advanced features are taken into account and adjusted specifically for each individual when hearing aids are fit by a hearing professional.

Ok, so an Internet retailer could send hearing aids to you programmed based on a hearing loss (although many don’t even do that); however, that does not guarantee the hearing aid settings will be appropriate.

Programming hearing aids strictly on hearing loss does not equal a successful fitting. A successful fitting of hearing aids is when they are programmed to your user preference, experience level with hearing aids, required listening environments and real-ear verification tests verify the fitting is accurate.

3. Properly fit hearing aids equal healthy hearing. When hearing aids are purchased over the Internet, safety can become a concern. How do you know how the hearing aids are programmed when they arrive in the mail? You don’t. You will only know once you have turned them on and listen. And what happens when they are turned on full blast? There may be a risk of damaging your hearing.

According to Dr. Noel Crosby, Audiologist and owner of Advanced Hearing Solutions , Inc in Florida, this scenario has happened to a few of her patients. She warns consumers of the potential danger in an interview with Healthy Hearing:

“A patient called my office explaining that he had lost one of the hearing aids that I had provided to him. His son had ordered a similar hearing aid for him online but he had not put it on. There was no audiogram (hearing test) required to order this hearing aid. When he came in and I listened to the hearing aid, I couldn’t believe that it was set full power, or what we refer to as maximum gain. If this gentleman had put this hearing aid on and worn it, he could have damaged his hearing.”

Bottom line is there is no way of knowing how hearing aids purchased online are programmed until you try them on or you visit a hearing care professional to have them check (which would require a fee).

successful hearing aid fittings
A succesfull hearing aid fitting equals happines

4. And then there’s after-purchase care and follow up. You won’t get that with an on-line purchase. Your hearing aids show up with a set of directions and you are on your own. In fact, as mentioned the hearing aids are not always programmed for your hearing loss. So guess what? The money you just saved by purchasing hearing aids online will now be spent visiting a hearing professional for hearing aid programming and fine-tuning – costs which are typically included in the cost of hearing aids when purchased directly from a qualified hearing aid professional.

By purchasing hearing aids directly from a hearing professional, you are not only purchasing hearing aids you are paying for their expertise in selecting hearing aids, expertise in properly fitting them, and also paying follow-up visits and ongoing care of your hearing aids.

Your hearing health care should not be any different than other ongoing medical issues. Expect to establish a long-term friendship with a good hearing aid professional. You’ll be seeing each other regularly which will ensure an adequate fit, higher satisfaction rate and ensuring your money was well spent on the right product from the beginning. And that’s a good thing.

5. Trial period, returns and guarantees. The Internet hearing aid retailer wants to make the sale and move on.

The hearing professional on Main Street wants to treat your hearing loss by providing the best listening experience to suit the extent of your hearing loss, your preferences for style, your lifestyle and quality of sound.

The professional works with you to find the best solution to suit your needs and wants. Most hearing aid professionals offer a trial period on newly purchased hearing aids – which is often a requirement of the state in which you live.

Throughout the trial period you will visit the professional multiple times to ensure the correct tweaking has been done to improve your listening experience. And what happens if at the end of the trial period you are still not satisfied? Let’s move on and try option B hearing aids.

With an Internet retailer you’d be stuck with hearing aids that aren’t working for you and you are now out thousands (was that worth saving a few hundred dollars?).

Ok, so you’ve made it through the trial period and are continuing to transition into your new world of hearing. You’ve visited your hearing aid professional a few times for adjustment. And oops, one day you accidentally forgot to take your hearing aids off when you dove into the swimming pool. Not a problem – your hearing aid professional will take care of the repair process for you and may even provide you with a pair of loaner hearing aids to wear until yours return from repair. Now that is service.

Internet retailer? It’s anybody’s guess.

6. The money is forgotten but the benefits are there every day. Yep, you can save a couple of hundred bucks buying online, but many manufacturers of quality hearing aids encourage you to work with a professional to obtain the best hearing experience available.


Paul Dybala Ph.D. President & Editor-in-chief, Healthy Hearing

Dr. Paul Dybala is an audiologist licensed in the state of Texas. He is the President and Editor-in-Chief of AudiologyOnline (www.audiologyonline.com), the world leader in online hearing health education and information. He is also President and Editor-in-Chief of Healthy Hearing (www.healthyhearing.com) the top ranked Web site for the key terms “hearing aids” across all major search engines and a provider of Web development solutions for hearing care professionals.

Dr. Dybala earned his master's degree and Ph.D. in audiology from the University of Texas at Dallas / Callier Center. He has experience as a clinical audiologist specializing in adult and pediatric hearing aid fittings, and as research audiologist and lecturer in the area of adult amplification. Dr. Dybala was one of the Internet pioneers for audiology, launching the first Internet based audiology company and creating some of the first large scale Web tools/sites for professionals and patients alike. He has presented on the topics of hearing loss, hearing aids and the Internet for the past 10 years at various state, national and international meetings.

Reprinted with permission from Healthy Hearing.