When you begin your journey to better hearing health, the number of sources discussing hearing loss can feel overwhelming, and it can be hard to know what information to trust. During that time—and beyond—having an expert on your side is an invaluable resource. Hearing care professionals can guide you through any questions you have and troubleshooting that arises. By providing crucial advice about your hearing, they can help you make the right decisions about your health.
So, what do those professionals want you to know?
We talked to three Miracle-Ear experts with decades of expereience to get their opinions:
Dr. Tom Tedeschi, Au.D. holds two doctoral degrees in neuroscience and in audiology. He has worked across many areas of audiology, from clinical settings to private practice to medical schools. He is now the Chief Audiology Officer at Miracle-Ear and weighs in on policies for the company.
Michael Joseph B.Sc. (Hons) is an audiologist who trained and practiced in the United Kingdom before coming to work in the United States. Now, he works as an Operations Manager for Miracle-Ear, where he manages all audiological programs for the United States and Canada.
Jennifer Purpura is a licensed hearing aid specialist who began her career as a practitioner with Miracle-Ear before going on to become a trainer, a role in which she trains others in on how to fit and use new products and technology.
Here’s what Dr. Tom, Michael and Jennifer had to say about the most important things people who are getting—or already have—hearing aids should know.
Dr. Tom Tedeschi: One of the things we [as audiologists] can do is help [people] preserve the hearing that they do have and we can help them utilize that hearing in multiple situations, not just with hearing aids. We could become their advisor on how they can preserve and maintain the hearing that they do have.
Michael Joseph: We’re not just selling a device. There’s a reason why we call it a journey and why it’s a partnership with a qualified, licensed expert. …If it was a one and done, we’d be seeing customers buying hearing aids and never needing to go and see a provider ever again. But we’re dealing with a sense and we’re dealing with a sense that can change. We’re dealing with people and people’s lifestyles can change. We’re dealing with variables that extend far beyond that of the device that you’re selling. So, there’s a big emphasis … on the rehabilitation and ongoing counseling, mentoring, advice and coaching that goes along with using a hearing aid.
An example of that would be: If you look at the first three to six months when someone gets a hearing aid, it’s such a critical part of that new journey… That’s where we load in multiple appointments for that adjustment period because the adaptation that the brain is going under is huge. Whether it's a severe, moderate or mild loss, you’re adjusting to something that, for so long, has been the norm for someone. I think that’s why the skill of a good hearing care professional is being able to understand the change that someone’s going through and really dial into it. I think all providers and customers should be aware of [the fact that] in the absence of good rehabilitation and good counseling, that’s when you see hearing aids failing. … You need that professional hearing care partnership to ensure that you’re continuously getting the best benefit from your hearing aid.
Jennifer Purpura: It’s not a transactional experience. Part of the Miracle-Ear Advantage that we tout is that your practitioner is there for that entire journey. It’s a rehabilitation process. It’s not just the purchase of hearing instruments when you’re purchasing from Miracle-Ear. This is a relationship that you have with the hearing care professional and we want you to be a patient for life. It’s not just transactional and the HCPs are there to preserve your hearing.
Tedeschi: Hearing is really two separate entities. We have the actual hearing that takes place in the organ of [the ear] that transmits sounds to the brain. But we also have cognition. You may want to think of this more as: We have hearing issues and we have listening issues. And these are two different issues. You may have a hearing loss or you may not have a hearing loss, but you [may] have a cognitive listening disorder. Your audiologist or hearing care professional can help differentiate between the two, because not all people that come in to get a hearing aid may need a hearing aid. We look at auditory processing disorders along with actually needing a device. When you go to your hearing care professional, they’re looking at all aspects of hearing, not just these basics of needing a device or having a loss, but having a cognitive function, too.
Purpura: Everyone wants a percentage of hearing lost, but it’s not a percentage of hearing loss that one should be seeking. They should really be considering “Do I have a hearing loss?” “What is my speech, my understanding?” “What is my cognitive ability?
Joseph: [What customers] should probably be asking, as they acquire more knowledge, is not just how are they hearing, but how are they listening and how are they understanding? We see this playing out in a lot of customers whose number one goal is that noisy environment. … How we understand speech in a noisy environment is not just about how well the cochlea can tune a sound. It’s how well the brain can understand and make use of that data coming up in the system. That’s where we, as providers and experts, have to be doing those tests to understand what’s happening. Once that brain is receiving that sound [and] I know what’s happening there, then I can quantify and adjust what needs to be done to give you the best care. We think of hearing just as the bit that sticks out from our heads rather than the whole system.
Tedeschi: One thing that people who start their hearing journey, especially those who require amplification, need to understand is that they've [likely] waited five to seven years before they've come in. People are complaining and everything, but what they don't understand is that by putting a hearing aid on, it's not going to be overnight that everything is back to normal. I always use the illustration that if you break your arm and you put your arm in a cast for eight weeks, and you take your case off all of a sudden, your arm is going to be weak. You have to go through physical training to build up that muscle. When we lose our hearing, we also lose some of our processing ability. It slows down and we’re not as good. By putting a hearing aid on, you start hearing all this sound and you start hearing what you’re missing. However, your brain isn’t assimilating as fast as it used to be able to. It takes time and you have to adapt to wearing the hearing aid and it takes time.
Joseph: Prevention is the best type of cure. You’re going to lose hearing, just by the fact that we get older. Things don’t work the same way they did when you’re 16 as they do when you're 86, 96. You can slow down the level of loss by being mindful about how loud you’re playing music, when you’re doing the yard work—just pop hearing defenders in. It might not seem like an [activity] could cause that much damage, but that constant battering from doing yard work, two, three times a week, or [playing an instrument] everyday will have an impact on your hearing. I’m 36 and I wish I would have listened to my own advice when I was in my teens as a drummer and guitarist. I was like “no way.” And it happened to me.
Tedeschi: ...If you start to hear your ears ringing, that means you’re abusing your ears in some way. Something’s going on. When you start to hear that, some damage is being done, so be very mindful if your ears start ringing. I’m a military veteran who served in Vietnam. I have a little bit of hearing loss because of the noises I heard during my time there, [where] hearing loss was the least of I was worried about. I wasn’t putting ear protection in. There’s a fallacy that if you wear hearing protection, you won’t be able to hear the people around you and that’s completely wrong. Either protect it or lose it.
Joseph: Take advantage of free hearing checks. You go and get your vision tested once a year or every two years, you go and get your teeth cleaned every six months. I don’t understand why, from a professional standing, people don’t go and get their hearing checked [as regularly]. … Part of that overall maintenance and care is [going in for check ups], because the earlier someone is able to identify [issues], we can have the right level of intervention [and] you’re mitigating a lot of risk. Taking precautions and regular checks is so critical for success down the line.
Purpura: As I’m getting closer and closer to that age, I get it. But there’s that stigma. [The customer] thinks 60s, 70s, 80s. They think of Great Uncle Stanley. They don’t think about themselves. There are so many other things that are coming about—it’s time to get the colonoscopy, it’s time to start switching to bifocals, etc. But why are we not taking advantage of simple, free hearing evaluations? Early intervention is key. How many patients have each of us tested over the years who were in their 60s that we think, “The difference it would have made to test this individual seven years ago, ten years ago, whatever the case may be.” It’s amazing how many individuals at the age of 50 should be getting the help that they need. But we do put things off way too far, way too often, and hearing is probably one of the biggest items we [put] off and it’s just a stigma. People take care of so many other things they’re supposed to. But hearing just kind of takes the backseat because they think they’re doing okay.
Tedeschi: The biggest thing is that once a person hits about 45 or 50, they may not have any hearing loss. That's not uncommon. Most people don’t, but get your baseline. Find out what it is, and then every two or three years, when you go in for your annual physical, make sure you get your hearing tested because the faster you catch a hearing loss and can remediate that hearing loss, the easier it becomes. The people who wait until they have these moderately severe hearing losses, they’re coming in for amplification. Those are the most difficult patients to work with because it’s such an adjustment. We want to try to help people as early as possible.
Joseph: It’s a hidden impairment. People know when their teeth hurt. Older people know when they can’t see because they’re squinting for the TV and holding menus out at restaurants. But unless someone tells you you’ve missed something, how do you know? The TV’s not going overnight from level 10 to level 50, it creeps up over a few years. Often you don’t realize it and it can be years until you’re suddenly realizing that you’re not hearing things as well as you have, and it’s a lifestyle shift for people. They’ve got to go through the acceptance of it. We often forget that there’s a big change process happening for someone, hence why it takes five years.
Tedeschi: One of the most common things we hear is that "I don't think my hearing is that bad. I think people should just speak up and people don’t speak clearly today.” One of the things that I used to always like to tell people is that if you were trying to read the newspaper when it was blurry all the time, would you call up the newspaper to say that their printing presses are not working correctly? No, you would start to think you have a vision problem and you go get help. The same thing is true [with hearing]. It’s not that people aren’t speaking clearly or they are not speaking loudly: it’s you. You have an issue [that needs attention.] Hearing loss is a gradual loss in most cases. Being that it’s gone slowly over time, you haven’t recognized and people have a million and one excuses [to not seek early attention.] But they don’t want to accept it … because there’s still a social stigma of getting old. No one wants to admit that they’re getting old, but it’s better to be old and active than to be old and sedentary and not hearing anyone.
Joseph: A patient once said to me, “I’m old, not obsolete.” He was happy to be old, but he didn’t want to be obsolete. That was his reasoning for buying hearing aids. I heard that 15 years ago and I still use it to this day.
Joseph: Just because Aunt Doris told you that hearing aids whistle doesn’t mean that every hearing aid whistles. Correlation is not causation. Everyone's journey is going to be a little bit different. Listen and trust your provider [because] they will give you the best advice for what you need. It’s not what the internet says, it’s what your provider says. Everyone’s journey and rehab is going to look a bit different, so use and lean on your provider to give that best possible care.
Purpura: Understand what works for your neighbor or your friend isn’t necessarily going to work for you. Understanding your own hearing and understanding challenges is key. So that’s why going to a licensed professional is key because there is so much information out there that it’s a blessing and curse. [People] come to use thinking they know it all, but in reality, they need to sit down, have a full evaluation and work with a professional to truly understand what’s best for them.