Tampa-area hearing experts say hearing aid advances deserve a listen
At first, Paul Reid ignored signs like not hearing certain conversational tidbits and high notes. “I didn’t want to admit my hearing was going, particularly as a musician,” says Reid, a retired ob-gyn and Angie’s List member in Valrico, Fla., who plays the organ at his church.
Eventually, after being cleared for medical issues by a doctor, he saw audiologist Lisa Tanner at highly rated Advanced Diagnostics & Hearing Solutions in Brandon, Fla. She fitted him with a discreet, $3,600 pair of hearing aids. The hearing aids and her adjustments to offset his unique hearing deficits made speech and music sound much clearer, he says.
About 11 million Americans wear a hearing aid, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Another 24 million suffer hearing loss, a condition most commonly associated with aging, but don’t own a hearing aid. The devices, which amplify sound, take some getting used to and factors such as severity of hearing loss can limit effectiveness. But experts say advances in hearing aids deserve a listen.
“Performance is better, and the size is smaller,” says Jody Pianin, an audiologist with highly rated Florida Medical Clinic who practices mainly in Wesley Chapel, Fla. She says hearing aids better reduce background noise and enhance speech in all settings. Hearing aids in Pianin’s office start at $800 and range to $3,100 for some featuring Bluetooth technology that allows audio streaming from electronic devices. Insurance doesn’t typically cover hearing aids, which last an average of five to seven years.
Before buying a hearing aid, experts recommend first pinpointing the causes of hearing loss. State law requires professionals licensed to fit people for hearing aids — such as audiologists, who have master’s or doctoral-level training and clinical expertise, and hearing instrument specialists, who pass tests demonstrating proficiency in hearing testing and troubleshooting aids — to first receive medical clearance or a waiver indicating the person declined to see a doctor before providing aids. “The main thing is to have a doctor see them in case there is a medically correctable problem,” says Dr. William A. Alonso, an ear, nose and throat doctor in Tampa and professor in the University of South Florida’s highly rated Morsani College of Medicine in Tampa. He performs exams for $100 to $150, with plan copays typically costing $12 to $20.
Despite advances, hearing aid wearers still struggle to hear in many public spaces, since the devices work best at close range. “People with hearing aids were historically excluded from enjoying things like movies and presentations,” says Scott Sims, an audiologist at highly rated Physician’s Choice Hearing & Dizziness Center, located in Tampa and Sun City Center, Fla.. But some venues, such as theaters, now use technology that transmits sound directly to hearing aids equipped with a special receiver switched on by the wearer. “It’s like having [someone] speak right in your ear,” Sims says.