by Ritvik Mehta, Otolaryngologist
Does it seem like people are speaking more softly these days, or that television programs aren’t as loud as they used to be? If you sometimes wonder why everyone seems to be mumbling, you may be experiencing hearing loss, especially if you are age 65 or older.
You’re not alone: According to the National Institutes of Health, about one-third of Americans between the ages of 65 and 75 have some degree of hearing loss, and that percentage increases with age.
This gradual, age-related condition is called presbycusis and is the most common cause of hearing loss. As an individual ages, the hearing cells in the ear degenerate over time and result in hearing loss.
There is a genetic component to presbycusis as well; if it runs in families, the loss of hearing may progress more quickly. Other causes such as infection, trauma to the ear and loud noises may also affect hearing.
Hearing loss caused by loud noises potentially may be reversed with medication if treated within a certain time (usually 48 hours up to a few weeks). In some cases, ear wax or objects that have been inserted into the ear canal may interfere with hearing; once these objects are removed, hearing returns to normal. Most of the time, hearing loss is permanent.
The conventional treatment for hearing loss has been hearing aids, which are worn either behind the ear or in the ear. Recently, a new type of hearing aid called Lyric has become available and offers several advantages over traditional devices.
Lyric is inserted deep into the ear canal by a physician or audiologist, so it is essentially invisible to the wearer and others. Also, unlike hearing aids which have to be removed daily and while showering, Lyric is an extended-wear device that can be worn 24 hours a day for several months at a time.
The device is water-resistant and can be worn while showering (but it is not water-proof, so patients cannot swim with it). There are no batteries to replace, making it less disruptive to the patient, and it can be easily turned on or off or put into “sleep” mode using a small remote control on a keychain.
Finally, studies have shown that patient satisfaction is higher with Lyric than with traditional hearing aids; patients have reported that sounds seem more natural and have improved hearing in background noise with less feedback problems.
Initially, candidates for Lyric see a physician or audiologist, who will measure the ear canal to ensure that it is both deep and wide enough to allow Lyric to be properly placed. Patients who have short or narrow ear canals may not be able to use Lyric.
Also, patients who have severe diabetes or use blood thinners such as Coumadin may not be good candidates for Lyric, since the skin in the ear canal is very thin and sensitive.
Cost is another factor to consider with any hearing aid; sophisticated technology means that these devices are often expensive. Unlike most hearing aids, which are purchased and may need to be replaced every few years or so, Lyric is provided on subscription basis.
This means patients pay an annual subscription fee for the device, which covers the initial fitting and any refitting, adjustments or doctor’s visits required during the year. The overall cost is comparable to replacing a traditional hearing aid every few years.
Unfortunately, neither Medicare nor most insurance companies cover the cost of hearing aids.
If Lyric isn’t the right choice for you, there are many daily-wear hearing aids to consider that are much smaller and more comfortable than the older models. These sleek, compact devices hide in the crease behind the ear or just inside the ear canal and are very difficult to see. You can even get a hearing aid that connects to a Bluetooth device.
To find the best solution for your hearing loss, consult your physician.
This Scripps Health and Wellness information was provided by Ritvik Mehta, MD, board certified otolaryngologist at Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla.