Frequently Asked Questions about Hearing Aids

Q: It seems that hearing aids are expensive, why?

The price of hearing aids is really two elements rolled into one price; 1) the cost of the instrument itself, and 2) the professional services.

  • Hearing aids are miniature sound-processing computers and that developing this technology requires significant development in the areas of medical prosthetics, acoustic research, and digital sound manipulation. This blend of technology is expensive to research, develop, and integrate into a device as small as a hearing aid.
  • Hearing aids alone are useless without appropriate fitting and adjustment. Professional services for consultation, fitting, adjustment, and regular follow-up allow you to receive the most benefit from your hearing aids. Rather than paying for these services at each and every visit, these costs are included in the overall price. During your three year warranty you will require 9-10 hours of total professional time for fitting, follow-up, and adjustment. We know this from 20 years of experience with thousands of hearing aid users.

Sales offices that advertise dramatically lower prices must achieve these prices by providing less professional service and using older or basic technology. Again, the short-term joy of a cheap price is often forgotten when those hearing aids fail to meet your needs.

Q: How much are hearing aids, and how should I budget for them?

The common range of current technology hearing aids will range from $1250 to over $2800 per aid.  The wide range relates to the level of technology and features. A rule of thumb: more expensive hearing aids have better technology to reduce interfering background sounds and improve your clarity in every situation. The average cost is $1,900.

If you have been recommended a hearing aid that exceeds $3,250 each you should seek another opinion from an Audiologist. Few, if any, hearing aids should exceed $3,250 each.  On the other hand, hearing aids costing under $1000 are almost always older, outdated technology with limited fucntionality.

Obviously when it comes down to actually making a decision your budget becomes a determining factor. Budget is important but the short-term joy of a terrific bargain can turn into dis-satisfaction when you realize the bargain aids do not offer better clarity. My recommendation is to consider middle technology, even if it means a slight financial stretch.  Most of your needs will be achieved and you will not regret the purchase.

Q: Why do some offices give free hearing tests while others have a charge?

It is important to understand the difference between hearing tests and hearing/audiological evaluations. While both are used to measure your hearing ability, the information gathered from each test is very different. Hearing loss is not a condition by itself. It is a symptom of a change in the middle ear, inner ear, hearing nerve, or brain processing centers.

  • Hearing Screening — this is a fairly limited test that shows how you hear tones at their softest levels and speech at a comfortable level. This test gives little or no information about the cause of your hearing loss, part of the ear creating the hearing loss, need for medical treatment, or practical hearing in background noise. It is merely a screening tool to determine if hearing aids can help you in a general way.

The “Free Hearing Test” that is offered by many sales outlets is almost always this type of limited test and is usually not reimbursed by insurance.

  • Diagnostic Hearing or Audiological Evaluation — this is an extensive ear and hearing evaluation that is used only by an Audiologist to measure your hearing ability and find which part of your ear is most likely causing your hearing loss. This information can show if you’re in the 15% of people who have a hearing loss that is treatable with medication or surgery. It also helps predict how much benefit you are likely to receive from hearing aids. The combined tests cost $65-$145 and are reimbursed by insurance, Medicare, and almost any health plan.

In summary, the hearing screening tells if you have a hearing loss and to what degree. The diagnostic hearing evaluation tells why you have hearing loss, if it is medically treatable, and helps predict what benefit you may receive from hearing aids. You already know or suspect you have a hearing loss; take time to discover everything you can about it.

Q: What are the best brands of hearing aids?

There is not one manufacturer or brand of hearing aid that is “best”. It is like comparing televisions – there are many brands and most look more similar than different but some may have a different set of features that are helpful. That said, there are a handful of companies that lead in technology, development, and number of products.

In 2015 there are approximately 6-7 manufacturers of hearing aid technology; these manufacturers produce about 15 brands, some top tier brands and others are secondary, or value brands. Some manufacturers like Starkey and Sonic Innovations are American companies. Unitron is based in Canada but has most of its production in America. GNReSound and Phonak started as American companies but were purchased by European competitors.

Hearing aids contain innovative technologies that are developed with significant investment in acoustic, medical, and product research. As such, the development of hearing aids occur in areas of the world that lead in sophisticated microelectronics, usually the United States, Canada (Unitron), Switzerland (Phonak), Germany (Siemens), and Denmark (GNReSound, Widex, Oticon). Most of these companies have research, design, and manufacturing facilities in America and employ thousands of Americans in the industry. Currently there are few hearing aids manufactured in the Far East.

Each of these leading brands research and develop their own technology. Most offer hearing aids across a wide price range, although some focus on a specific area of technology.

Familiar names like Miracle Ear, Beltone, and Costco Kirkland are well known brands but are actually built by other manufacturers and then private labeled.  Since these are private labeled you can only receive adjustment at that particular office: this will limit who is able to help you in the future.

In other instances some local offices have their own “office brand” but these should be avoided as no other hearing care provider can adjust or repair these hearing aids.