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Why Are Hearing Aids So Expensive | Lexie Hearing

Hearing aids have a reputation for being expensive. There are hearing aids that cost over $4000 per ear, but there are also affordable options out there. Can a hearing aid that is more affordable meet your needs too?

There are many hearing aids available in the market and they range in price from very expensive to only a couple of hundred dollars. If you have a hearing loss you might be wondering if all good hearing aids are expensive and whether you will compromise on your hearing health if you purchase a more affordable hearing aid. This article looks at why some hearing aids are more expensive and addresses some hearing aid myths.

Why are some hearing aids more expensive than others?

When new hearing aids are released, the best and most advanced features are always the most expensive. This is most noticeable when the hearing aid user is in a complex sound environment, like background noise, or in a group. Hearing aid manufacturers use buzzwords like ‘Speech Enhancer’ and ‘Sound Smoother’ as the names for these features. They are advanced algorithms in the hearing aid’s microchip so that the hearing aid can distinguish between speech and noise. It then adjusts the balance so that you can hear the person you want to hear, without it being overwhelmed by background noise. Features like this require a lot of research and development. The hearing aid also needs to operate at lightning speed, performing millions of tiny adjustments every second. The more expensive the hearing aids, the better and more efficient these features, and the better the hearing aid user will cope being in a noisy setting.

Other expensive features deal with undesirable sounds. Advanced feedback management systems help to prevent that whistling sound that older hearing aids often made. Wind noise managers allow you to hear clearly when you are outdoors, especially important for people who love hiking or cycling. Features that suppress sudden loud sounds require extremely fast hearing aids with strong compression. This keeps you from getting a fright when a door slams or the dog barks. Affordable hearing aids may have basic versions of these features, but they get better and more intuitive as the price gets higher.

More expensive hearing aids also have more advanced classification systems. This refers to the way that modern hearing aids identify what kind of sound environment you are in, and automatically adjust themselves. This means that the hearing aid user has to ‘fiddle’ with the hearing aids less and provides a more natural listening experience in different sound situations. The more expensive the hearing aid, the more automatic classifiers it has, allowing it to adjust itself quicker and more precisely.

As the price rises, hearing aids have more channels and bands. Channels and bands refer to the different frequency ‘zones’ that can be adjusted separately from one another when programming a hearing aid. If you only have one channel, you will only be able to make the hearing aid louder or softer, with no difference between low- and high-pitched sounds. However, if you had 40 channels, your hearing healthcare practitioner would be able to set tiny differences in amplification at 40 different places, allowing for much more natural sound. Having enough channels and bands is the only way that hearing healthcare practitioners can appropriately manage hearing losses that are better in the low frequencies and poorer in the high frequencies. 

Your needs as a patient

So, with these differences, does this mean that everyone must get the most expensive hearing aids? Well, everyone would like to drive the Rolls Royce, but that does not mean everyone needs to. There are a lot of factors that contribute to whether someone needs the top of the range, or can hear well with an affordable option. As mentioned earlier, if you have a hearing loss with significant differences between the low and high frequencies, what we call a sloping hearing loss, you will need more channels and bands than someone with a hearing loss that is the same across the frequency range. If you have poor speech discrimination abilities, especially in noise, you will need hearing aids that have enough features to support your hearing abilities sufficiently. This is why a full diagnostic hearing assessment is so important. Very basic hearing aids on complex ears probably might not provide the sound quality that they need and the person will continue to struggle.

As important, if not more important than the hearing test, are the lifestyle needs of the patient. Remember that the most expensive features in hearing aids are the ones that assist with background noise and groups. If you are a person who is very social, or who attends a lot of meetings, or if music is important to you, you might need more expensive hearing aids to cope with these situations which are usually challenging for people with hearing loss. However, if you predominantly stay at home, and converse with people in a one-on-one situation, a more affordable hearing aid could be enough. Some specific people need certain features, like a hiker who needs an advanced wind-noise manager. The demands of your life will dictate the level of technology you need, and therefore how much money you will need to spend to get hearing aids that will work for you.

Does this mean buying affordable hearing aids is a waste?

If a patient has a tricky or complex hearing loss, or if their lifestyle or work requires them to be in challenging listening situations, they might not receive enough benefit from budget hearing aids. However, this does not mean that everyone should have premium technology. Most people do not need the most expensive technology for hearing aids to change their lives. Although the most advanced features in hearing aids are the most expensive, the development of technology has meant that some of these features or simple versions of them have become more and more affordable in recent years. It has become possible to buy hearing aids that meet many needs of the hearing impaired individual, even at a more budget-friendly price point.

Myths about affordable hearing aids

There are a few myths about affordable hearing aids. Although the main difference between affordable and expensive hearing aids is features and sound quality, a lot of people think that other things affect the price too.

  1. The smaller and prettier the hearing aid, the more expensive it is. This is a myth! Generally, the outside look of the hearing aid does not really affect the price. You can find hearing aids of all styles and looks across the price range, even at entry-level.
  2. The more powerful the hearing aid is in terms of volume, the more expensive it will be. This is also not true, as you can purchase hearing aids of different power levels at all price ranges.
  3. Hardware features like direct call streaming make hearing aids more expensive. When made for iPhone and direct streaming capabilities were first released, this feature was only available in the most expensive hearing aids. However, as the feature has become more standard, you can commonly find it in affordable hearing aids too.
  4. Rechargeable hearing aids are more expensive. These are now regularly available as an option for hearing aids at all price points.
  5. You need to sacrifice call features like smartphone apps if you buy an affordable hearing aid. Almost all hearing aids, even budget-friendly options, have access to smartphone apps that allow you to make adjustments to your hearing aid during your normal life.

Are all good hearing aids expensive? No, certainly not! Depending on their hearing loss and needs, most people are likely to be able to purchase an affordable hearing aid that has the features required to meet their hearing needs. When considering purchasing a hearing aid, it’s important to think about what is important to you, and what your needs are. If you have advanced hearing and lifestyle needs and can afford to purchase premium hearing aids, they might be the best fit for you. But if you’re looking for a smart device that you can connect to your phone, that is small and discrete and gives you the amplification you need to hear those around you, you should be able to find an affordable option that will work well for you. If you aren’t sure what your needs are, speak to a Lexie hearing expert or hearing healthcare practitioner, who will be able to help you assess which level of technology will suit you best.

B. Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology, and article author

Written byMarcelle Swanepoel

B. Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology

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