Chicago hearing experts say hearing aids deserve a listen
Before Oaklawn, Ill., Angie’s List member Dave Frestel settled on a new $2,500 hearing aid, he tried out several models at home, the mall and in noisy restaurants. His audiologist, Kati Casey in highly rated Dr. Joseph Gavron’s Orland Park office in Chicago, encouraged such trials with hearing aid devices.
“There’s an amazing difference in hearing aids,” says Frestel. Deaf in his right ear, the new hearing aid allows him to hear clearly, reduces background noise in public places, and masks tinnitus, a persistent noise in his ear similar to ringing. It’s so tiny it’s hardly noticeable, he says.
About 11 million Americans wear a hearing aid, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Another 24 million suffer hearing loss, most commonly associated with aging, but don’t own a hearing aid. The devices, which amplify sound, take some getting used to and don’t work for everyone. But experts say advances in hearing aids, which shrank in size while growing in sophistication, deserve a listen. “In the past, technology wasn’t where it is today and often didn’t meet patients’ needs,” says highly rated audiologist Dr. Paul Pessis, owner of North Shore Audio-Vestibular Lab in Highland Park and Long Grove, Ill.
But as aids improve, so does patient satisfaction, says Pessis, who sells hearing aids for about $1,750 to $3,500 each. Higher-end devices usually fare best in demanding environments, such as a work conference, to reduce background noise and amplify speech. Because of hearing aid prices, insurance doesn’t typically cover aids. However, the best hearing aids can last an average of five to seven years.
Providers disagree on who to see first about hearing loss, whether it be an audiologist, who performs hearing tests and has master’s- or doctoral-level training, or an otolaryngologist, a physician specializing in the ears, nose and throat. Each plays a pivotal role in the diagnosis, treatment and management of hearing loss; however, state law requires professionals licensed to fit people for hearing aids, such as audiologists and hearing instrument specialists, to first receive medical clearance or a waiver indicating the individual declined to see a hearing loss doctor.
“We make sure their hearing loss is not correctable before we authorize hearing aids,” says highly rated otologist Dr. Ernest Mhoon, an ENT doctor who subspecializes in ears. Mhoon says the University of Chicago-affiliated clinic where he practices sells a variety of hearing aids for about $1,000 to $5,000 each.
Despite advances, providers say hearing aids alone don’t solve the growing problem of hearing loss plaguing an aging population. Some venues, such as theaters, are installing looping technology that transmits a signal that a special receiver inside some hearing aids can pick up when switched on. “It’s a way to create a clarity that sounds more direct or clear than what you’re ever going to get with just a hearing aid,” says Lyndi Sue Hofstra, a hearing instrument specialist who owns highly rated Hofstra Family Hearing in Palos Heights, Ill., where a pair of hearing aids typically sells for $2,490 to $4,590. She likens it to surround sound. “It dramatically changes the experience.”