Guest Blog Post: Hearing Update 2015

In looking back over the last twenty years, the advances in hearing aid technology have been truly amazing. From the development of digital technology in the 90s to the recent improvements in feedback control and sound processing in the present, we are now able to make the wearing of hearing amplification a much more effective and comfortable process.

The annoying “whistling” and difficulties using the telephone that were a constant worry have been mostly overcome. The ability to combine hearing aids with bluetooth and other technologies now enables users to interface with cell phones, TV and music sources. As these improvements become easier to use in the future, they will be more attractive to the average wearer.

Electronic components are becoming minaturized and this allows more power to be produced in smaller hearing aids. In the past, “body aids”, the size of transistor radios, were needed for very severe losses. Today that same amplification can be obtained from behind-the-ear hearing aids that are comfortable to wear and are designed to be as attractive as possible.

In the past, several manufacturers have attempted to design a reliable rechargeable battery system for hearing aids. Now there is one company that is making a dependable one but it is only available for behind-the-ear styles. The battery life is 13 to 15 hours on one charge and the batteries last for a year. You can also use regular batteries in these hearing aids if necessary.

For those individuals who have very severe losses and little benefit from hearing aids, there is cochlear implant technology. Not only has this technology improved in the last few years but the criteria for eligibility has been expanded to include older individuals. If one is accepted as a candidate, the procedure is covered by OHIP.

No matter how sophisticated and ingenious our engineering becomes, however, we can never match the capabilities of nature’s invention, the human ear. Our inner ear has an amazing capacity to deal with noisy environments and distinguish speech in the presence of competing sounds. When the hair cells in our inner ears are damaged as happens with hearing loss we also lose the ability to cope well in noisy situations. Coupled with the fact that while needing sounds louder, some of us also develop less tolerance for loudness, we present a difficult challenge for hearing aid manufacturers. 

Hearing loss can be due to the effects of aging, noise exposure, infection, lack of circulation, injury or surgery. One last cause that we should be aware of and discuss with our doctors is the toxic effect many prescription drugs can have on our hearing. Many antibiotics and chemotherapy agents as well as others are ototoxic. If you are starting on a new medication, it is good idea to speak with your doctor or pharmacist and voice your concerns. Sometimes there is an alternative choice that is friendlier to ears.

In the future, perhaps we will be able to grow new hair cells but for now we are left with trying to imperfectly mimic the unique capabilities of our inner ears. As a result, we have to be realistic in our expectations of these flawed but wonderful inventions called hearing aids.

Finally, the improvement I would most like to see in the future would be a detection system for lost hearing aids. I would like to whistle and have my hearing aids answer! Actually, a recent innovation in this area does exist that allows an app on a cell phone to pinpoint the last location of your hearing aid using GPS technology. Who can tell what will be next?

Please don’t hesitate to call or drop in to our new office or come to our monthly clinic. We would be happy to answer any of your questions about hearing health.                                              

by Dale Hewie H.I.S.

Complete Hearing Health

5o Westmount Rd. North  Suite 204, Waterloo, ON, N2L 2R5