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Copyright December 2002
Question: I was recently diagnosed with a hearing loss in both ears. My audiologist recommends that I get two hearing aids. Isnt one enough? Do the advantages of wearing two hearing aids really outweigh the extra expense? (Hearing aids arent cheap you know!)D. B.
Answer: Good questions. I sympathize with you. I well know how expensive hearing aids can be! Furthermore, two hearing aids cost twice as much as one. Therefore, you are right to wonder if you will get your moneys worth out of the second aid. Heres the scoop.
Human beings have binaural hearing; that is, we hear with two ears. A lot of good things happen when we hear with both ears.
In fact, all the wonderful things our ears can do are dependent on our hearing with two balanced ears. Taking away the hearing in one ear knocks this amazing system out of balance. Wearing only one hearing aid does the same thing.
10 Reasons To Wear Two Hearing Aids
You gain many advantages from having two functioning ears. Here are ten reasons you should wear two hearing aids if you have a hearing loss in both ears.
- When wearing two hearing aids, you can better locate the source of sounds. With only one hearing aid, you hear the sound inside your head, but you cant pinpoint the direction from which the sound is coming. Thus, in group situations you may hear a person talking, but you will have no idea who is speaking. In order to figure out who is speaking you have to twist around to look at everyone's face to see whose lips are moving. By the time you have located the person speaking so you can speechread him, you often have missed most of what was said.
- When wearing two hearing aids you will understand speech and conversation significantly better than if you wear only one. This is especially true under difficult listening situations. The two hearing aids give your brain a much better chance of subtracting out the noise you dont want to hear and picking up the speech you really want to hear. As a result, the voice you are trying to hear more clearly stands out from the background noise. This makes listening a lot easier.
- If you wear two hearing aids, you can reduce the volume on both hearing aids by about 10 dB and still hear better and understand more than if you only wore one hearing aid. This reduces the total volume of sound assaulting your earsespecially in noisy situations. An added benefit is that you will be able to tolerate louder sounds better with the lower volume setting. Furthermore, you will find that the sound quality improves since there is less distortion and better reproduction of amplified sounds at the lower volume setting.
When one of my hearing aids quit working, I realized anew just how little I really understand with only one hearing aid. I was shocked at how much louder I had to set the volume on the remaining hearing aid in order to hear, yet I understood far less. Once you have adjusted to wearing two hearing aids, you will never want to be without both of them.
- Wearing two hearing aids eliminates the head-shadow effect that occurs when you are wearing only one hearing aid. With two hearing aids, you hear from all directions360 degreesnot just the 180 degrees you basically hear from when you wear only one hearing aid. You will really notice this effect when someone speaks to you from the side opposite your hearing aid. The difference will be even more dramatic when there are louder sounds on your hearing aid side. The speaker on your unaided side then will be almost impossible to hear and understand.
- Wearing two hearing aids is less tiring. This makes listening more pleasant. You can relax more while you are listening as you no longer have to strain to try to hear with only one ear.
- Wearing two hearing aids gives you a more natural balance of sound and greatly improves your listening enjoyment. This is particularly noticeable when listening to music. Here is why:
Your brain consists of two halves or hemispheres. The two halves of your brain have many interconnecting links so they can rapidly talk back and forth as they process information. The left side of your brain is the logical (or technical) side. It gives you discrete pieces of information. The right side of your brain is the aesthetic side. It gives you your appreciation of beauty and your ability to recognize images and patterns of sound. If you wear only one hearing aid, your brain only gives you part of the message.
Your brain is wired so that the sounds from your right ear go mainly to the left side of your brain. There your brain interprets what a person is saying. The sounds from your left ear go mainly to the right side of your brain. There your brain interprets how the person speaking means it. Likewise, when listening to music, you hear the sounds of the individual instruments of the orchestra in your right ear but listen to the blended beauty of the music itself with your left ear.
Take the words I love you. Just three little words but with myriad shades of meaning. Your right ear (and your left brain) hear and interpret the actual words and analyze the context. Your left ear (and your right brain) determine how you understand this messagewhether sincere or sarcastic or whatever. Thus you need both your ears to completely understand all sounds, speech and music. Wearing one hearing aid only gives you part of the story.
- Wearing two hearing aids gives you better sound depth perception and thus helps you locate and hear sounds from a specific point in space. People with normal hearing can decide which sounds they want to hear and largely ignore the others (true selective hearing). To do this, your eyes and your ears work together. For example, say you focus your eyes on one member of a distant group of people. Your brain calculates the location of the person that you eyes are focused on. Next, it instructs your ears to listen for any sounds coming from that particular point in space and filter out all others. Hard-of-hearing ears cant do this as well as normally-hearing ears can. However, if you are not wearing two hearing aids, you cant do this at all. Both ears have to be able to hear the sounds for this to work. Furthermore, with two hearing aids, you can hear softer sounds from greater distances.
- When you wear two hearing aids, you stimulate both ears. If you only wear one hearing aid, the other ear will not be stimulated and may eventually lose its ability to hear and interpret sounds.
- Since you dont need the volume as loud when you wear two hearing aids, you have a lesser chance of getting feedback in your hearing aids. Feedback is that annoying squealing or whistling that occurs when a hearing aid (or earmold) doesnt fit properly.
- Wearing two hearing aids helps mask tinnitus (ringing in your ears). With one hearing aid, you can mask the tinnitus on the one side, but not in the unaided ear.
5 Reasons You Should Not Wear Two Hearing Aids
Not everyone can take advantage of wearing two hearing aids. In a few cases it is just not appropriate. Here are five situations where you should only wear one hearing aid.
- Obviously, if you have normal hearing in one ear and are hard of hearing in the other, you only need one hearing aid.
- Just as obviously, if you are totally deaf in one ear, wearing a hearing aid in that ear will not help you either.
- If the sounds you hear in one ear are so distorted that you cant understand speech, wearing a hearing aid in that ear will be counter-productive. The hearing aid will simply amplify this garble, which will, in turn, interfere with your brain processing the speech you hear in your other ear. The final result is you will understand even less than if you wore only one hearing aid.
- If you have constant infections in your ear canal or eardrum that just will not clear up as long as you have a hearing aid stuffed in your ear, you should not make the situation worse by trying to wear a hearing aid in that ear. You would still benefit from wearing two hearing aids, but your physical problem precludes their use.
- A few people have tiny ear canalsmuch too small to properly fit/hold hearing aids/ear molds. Thus they physically cant wear a hearing aid in that ear.
If one of these latter two cases applies to you, all is not lost. You might want to investigate having an implantable hearing aid on that side instead. The Vibrant Soundbridge, for example, has no parts in your ear canal to bother such conditions.
Wearing two hearing aids will never give you normal hearing. You will always have to struggle to hear, particularly under difficult listening situations. You will never have normal sound depth perception. You will never be able to locate sounds as precisely as people with normal ears. You will never have normally-balanced sound. However, wearing two hearing aids will go a long ways towards helping you in all these areas. If you only wear one hearing aid, you will be defeated in these areas before you even start.
Once they have experienced the greatly improved benefits that wearing two hearing aids can bring, the overwhelming majority of hard of hearing people never voluntarily go back to wearing just one hearing aid again.
Neil Bauman, Ph.D. was born with a severe hereditary hearing loss. He is a hearing loss coping skills specialist, researcher, author and speaker. He is not a medical doctor and does not prescribe/endorse treatment for medical problems. This educational article is for your information only. If you suspect that you have a medical problem related to your hearing, please seek competent medical help. Use the information here to help you make informed decisions, not as a substitute for any treatment that your doctor may prescribe. Send your questions to him at email@example.com or check his web site for more information at www.hearinglosshelp.com.
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