Ask Dr. Abonso
7. I Saw On Tv That The Government Says Hearing Aids Don't Work And They Are Going After Hearing Aid Dispensers. Is That True?

Dr. Abonso: Good grief no. What FDA Commissioner David Kessler, M.D. said was that some hearing aid advertisements made false claims about what hearing aids can do, like filtering out sounds you don't want to hear while letting sounds you do want to hear come through. In that, he was right; those ads were misleading. Only your brain can do that job.

Suspicious Consumer: I got the impression he said more than that.

Dr. Abonso: He did. One thing was incorrect, though.

Suspicious Consumer: What?

Dr. Abonso: That all hearing aids use basically the same type of circuit, and thus no one brand of hearing aid can perform better in noise than another.

Suspicious Consumer: Isn't that true?

Dr. Abonso: Good grief no. Perhaps 80% of hearing aids still use the old-fashioned "peak clipping" circuits with tinny-sounding frequency response, but several manufacturers now produce vastly improved circuits. These are as different from the old-fashioned circuits as a broadcast-studio console is from a pocket-radio amplifier.

Suspicious Consumer: Didn't we have this conversation before? Which manufacturers make the better circuits?

Dr. Abonso: The ones I most admire are the K-AMP®. circuit made by Etymotic Research and the two-channel compression circuit made by ReSound, but Argosy, 3M, Danavox, Siemens, Telex, Widex, and some others make circuits that are dramatically improved over the old-fashioned ones.

Suspicious Consumer: Is there any real evidence that these new circuits work better?

Dr. Abonso: Yes, indeed. If your dispenser likes to keep up on the scientific literature, he or she can give you copies of articles on this subject.

Suspicious Consumer: I love to read. Can you recommend one article in particular?

Dr. Abonso: I like a 22-page article by my nephew, Dr. Mead C. Killion, from a talk he gave at a Mayo Clinic seminar. Most of it is amazingly easy to read. It explains why older-design hearing aids didn't work very well.

Suspicious Consumer: If all this evidence is available, why doesn't everyone use the better circuits?

Dr. Abonso: We did have this conversation before. It's to save money.

Suspicious Consumer: You mean greedy manufacturers use cheaper circuits to make more money?

Dr. Abonso: You are suspicious! No, I don't mean that. First of all, the dispenser should be choosing the circuit, not the manufacturer. Second, most dispensers would choose the less expensive circuit to save you money. I think it's false economy, because low-cost circuits really don't work as well, but I believe it is motivated more by ignorance than by greed.

Suspicious Consumer: OK, so you believe everyone is wonderful. Then why is the government going after hearing aid dispensers?

Dr. Abonso: It isn't! It is going after unsupported claims in hearing aid advertising.

Suspicious Consumer: Maybe I got the wrong impression. I admit it was TV.

Dr. Abonso: The TV program I saw had former Surgeon General Koop on with Dr. Kessler. Dr. Koop made it clear that the hearing aids he wears have made a dramatic difference in his life.

© 1993

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