Hearing Health and Technology -- Workshop, Project No. P171200
I am both hearing impaired since birth and a nationally board certified hearing specialist by trade. I can speak both from the perspective of a person who went 29 years without help, and as a professional that helps the hearing impaired daily. The impact of untreated hearing loss cannot be understated and it is consistently underestimated by healthcare professionals and the public at large. It touches every aspect of life - social, emotional, employment, mental, and even physical. Appropriate hearing healthcare reduces the negative impacts, but proper treatment is critically important. Improper treatment leaves patients at risk for further hearing damage and auditory deprivation, misses critical medical issues, and leaves patients with the incorrect impression that "hearing aids don't work" which discourages seeking proper care. There are no one-size-fits-all hearing solutions. No two ears are the same, not even on both sides of the same head. Even two patients with the same audiogram will leave with different hearing solutions because no two people have the same listening environments, lifestyle considerations, ear canal sizes, physical dexterity, perceptions or personal preferences. There are currently hundreds of inexpensive PSAPs and internet based/mail order hearing aids that purport to help people in an over-the-counter manner. There is no lack of cheap options available to the consumer. However, these options are not getting the job done, as is evidenced by the wrong-headed push to make real hearing aids over the counter. Many of my own patients have tried mail order, internet hearing aids and PSAP products. Consistently I am told that there is just no comparison to real properly fit hearing aids in terms of comfort, functionality, and improved hearing outcomes. Once they have experienced the difference of working with a professional, none of them wish to go back and consider the money and years spent on the "inexpensive" options to have been wasted, wishing they had gotten proper help sooner. Many of my patients have also needed medical help prior to getting hearing aids. I've caught numerous serious medical conditions that in some cases would have led to death or permanent damage if left untreated. While I am not allowed to diagnose or treat medical conditions, I can see when someone needs referral to the doctor for treatment. Many conditions do not cause physical pain and changed hearing is the only noticed symptom. If a person were to have used an OTC measure they would have been seriously harming themselves and wasting money without realizing it. It has also been my experience that people consistently underestimate their degree of hearing loss and the extent of the impact on their life. So many people come in to me reporting they "hear mostly fine" and "only have a little trouble" only to be diagnosed with severe hearing loss. Self diagnosis is just not possible. I always knew I was half-deaf since birth, but had no idea that the lifelong problems I had with severe depression, anxiety and panic attacks resulting in 3 years of agoraphobia and Social Security Disability were related to my hearing loss. I did not become aware of this until I got appropriate hearing help. Hearing aids gave me my life back in so many ways including a much better life overall, and a passion to help others that live with hearing loss resulting in a successful career. Perhaps if I had gotten hearing help sooner, I could have avoided years of suffering and saved the government thousands in SSI benefits from the disability I experienced as a result of my own untreated hearing loss. If we really want to help the hearing impaired, the appropriate course of action would not be OTC hearing aids, but to treat hearing loss as the serious condition it is. This would include massive public education efforts and full insurance coverage of hearing aids and all associated professional services needed to treat hearing loss properly.