Ask Dr. Abonso
2. Why Do My Hearing Aids Have To Blow My Head Off?

Dr. Abonso: I don't see anything missing.

Suspicious Consumer: That was a figure of speech. Can you tell me why my hearing aids are often so loud that I have to turn them down to keep my ears from hurting?

Dr. Abonso: Yes I can. Your hearing aids are much too powerful: powerful enough to reduce your I.Q. 10 points in several minutes. You have been wearing these aids for several years.

Suspicious Consumer: Was that an insult?

Dr. Abonso: No, just an attempt at humor so you won't fall asleep.

Suspicious Consumer: Why was I fitted with such powerful aids?

Dr. Abonso: Probably because your dispenser wanted to make certain you had plenty of gain for soft sounds and plenty of power for loud sounds. Without plenty of power, your hearing aids will distort loud sounds.

Suspicious Consumer: But I can't use all that gain. I have to turn the volume way down to stand these hearing aids and I still can't hear in noise.

Dr. Abonso: Ah, yes, they fail the DHTTDGTLWI test.

Suspicious Consumer: The what?

Dr. Abonso: The Doesn't-Have-To-Turn-Down-Gain-To-Live-With-It test. You have to turn down the volume controls to live with your hearing aids, which means you miss some of the quieter speech sounds, which means you can't hear speech well in noise.

Suspicious Consumer: You got that right! And if I turn the volume controls up, the loudness hurts.

Dr. Abonso: Your dispenser really should have checked to be sure that the maximum output of your hearing aids didn't exceed your discomfort level.

Suspicious Consumer: Can I buy hearing aids that pass your funny Ditto--whatever test?

Dr. Abonso: Yes you can. Since 1990, many hearing aids have used a tiny high-fidelity amplifier that can be adjusted so that it only amplifies quiet sounds. Loud sounds are allowed to pass through without amplification, just as if the hearing aid wasn't there.

Suspicious Consumer: What about these programmable hearing aids I read about; do they do that?

Dr. Abonso: A couple of them do.

Suspicious Consumer: Are you being coy? Which ones do? And why don't all hearing aids amplify only quiet sounds?

Dr. Abonso: I'll tell you which ones, but I don't want you to think my only purpose in life is to promote a particular brand of hearing aid. The high-fidelity amplifier I mentioned is called the K-AMP circuit. Some 32 hearing aid companies now make hearing aids using that circuit. The (more expensive) programmable aid that usually does the best job is the RESOUND aid. That was a wheelbarrow full of electronic equipment at Edgar Villchur's research lab back in the 1970's. It is now wearable due to $20,000,000 of development at AT&T Bell Labs and RESOUND.

Suspicious Consumer: You forgot my last question. Let me rephrase it: Why don't my hearing aids amplify only quiet sounds?

Dr. Abonso: Some hearing aid dispensers are more familiar with the old head-banger designs and keep ordering them.

Suspicious Consumer: Why don't the manufacturers simply stop selling those old aids?

Dr. Abonso: Because we live in the U.S.A., where customers tell manufacturers what to do, not vice versa.

Suspicious Consumer: You do get off the track. How would I know which hearing aid is best?

Dr. Abonso: Ultimately you must decide that yourself. Be sure to go to a hearing professional who will give you information you can trust.

© 1993

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