You’re experiencing hearing loss in one or both ears? When you come to accept the fact that it might be time to invest in a hearing aid, a visit to your trusted, local Audiologist is the first step on your journey to better hearing health. But don’t be surprised when they recommend that you get not one, but two hearing aids. They have your best interest in mind. Continue reading to find out why.
The TV volume maxing out, a constant ringing your ears, struggling to understand people on the phone or in noisy environments. When we first notice signs of hearing loss, we tend to shrug it off. This is a very dangerous choice because the risks of untreated hearing loss are great.
Yet, it is often not until we experience its effects on our day to day life, social interactions, school or work, that we finally seek help and book an appointment with a hearing care expert. If you’re in the same boat, don’t worry. Whilst it is true that hearing can not be restored, hearing aids can give you back the ability to hear and help you live your life to the fullest.
When you think about getting hearing aids for the first time, you will, like many others, wonder whether one hearing aid might be enough to help you, or if you’ll need two hearing aids, one for each ear.
Here is the deal: If you only have hearing loss in one ear and the other ear is hearing normally, then only one hearing aid is needed. But, in the majority of cases, people will experience hearing loss in both ears at the same time and will benefit from wearing two hearing aids.
Here are the reasons why you might benefit from wearing two hearing aids as well.
Wearing two hearing aids will greatly improve your ability to locate the source of sounds.
In someone with normal hearing, the brain compares tiny differences in the volume and timing of sounds heard in each ear. It then uses these differences to determine what direction sounds are coming from. But, “the brain can’t locate a sound as well if sound signals are always louder through one ear”, as a Harvard Medical School report on hearing aid benefits explains.
Hearing loss can interfere with how sounds are heard in each ear and can, therefore, affect this ability, which is known as localisation. In fact, difficulties with localisation can be one of the early signs of hearing loss.
Directional hearing and localisation are important for safety, particularly if you are driving or walking in traffic. If you are wearing one hearing aid, sounds can be heard more loudly on the side with the hearing aid than the side without one.
This difference in volume can confuse the brain and make it seem like the sound is coming from a different direction. This can be dangerous if you turn or step out onto a road without realising exactly where traffic is coming from.
It can also be frustrating if you can hear someone calling out to get your attention but you can’t work out where they are to start looking for them!
The directional hearing also plays an important part in hearing a conversation, particularly in a group or noisy situations. Your brain uses localisation to focus on the speaker you want to hear while filtering sounds or conversations coming from different directions.
This is known as spatial processing. Wearing one hearing aid makes this task more difficult and studies have shown a significant improvement in a person’s ability to understand speech in background noise when two hearing aids are worn.
In the same way that your brain uses sounds from both ears to get information about direction, it also uses information from both ears to filter out unimportant information and focus on important information.
By using speech and noise coming in through both ears and comparing them against each other, our brain can work out what conversation we are trying to listen to and focus on that, while at the same time filtering out the background noise or other conversations that are competing for our attention.
When you only use one hearing aid you are not able to utilise our brains natural abilities to focus on speech in difficult listening situations.
Having two hearing aids also means you can hear a conversation on both sides, for example when you are talking in a small group. If you have one hearing aid, the person on that side will sound louder and you may miss conversation from the side without a hearing aid.
You may hear other people’s conversations on the hearing aid side more loudly than the conversation you want to hear on your unaided side, which may interfere with your ability to follow the conversation. Having two hearing aids means you have the best chance to hear the conversation you want to hear, regardless of where the speaker is standing.
Tinnitus is a medical condition that describes a ringing or hissing sound in one or both ears. Many people experience tinnitus alongside hearing loss. Tinnitus is often caused by the same damage to the auditory system that has caused the hearing loss.
If tinnitus is experienced at annoying, debilitating levels, the use of hearing aids can provide relief. Some hearing aids have inbuilt tinnitus maskers
that provide an alternate sound source so that the tinnitus is not heard as loudly. If you have tinnitus in both ears but wear one hearing aid, you may experience tinnitus relief in the ear wearing the hearing aid but not in the ear without the aid.
Wearing two hearing aids allows an effect called binaural summation. This is when a listener hears a sound at a greater volume when both ears hear a signal together compared to when either ear hears a signal by itself. Binaural summation also helps to discriminate frequencies and improves speech understanding no matter if you’re in noise or in quiet.
When your brain has an increased perception of volume from wearing two hearing aids, it means the hearing aids themselves do not have to do so much work. The hearing aids can be programmed with less gain and power settings than if you are wearing one aid.
This can assist in listening comfort, particularly reactions to louder sounds eg painful or startle reactions to sudden impact sounds. It can increase your battery life as the hearing aid does not need to draw so much power and may even mean you can wear smaller hearing aids as smaller batteries may be sufficient.
Hearing loss is associated with a greater listening effort. People suffering from hearing loss are constantly trying to ‘fill in the blanks’ of what they are listening to, for example, speech. This takes effort and can result in you being exhausted by the end of the day!
Hearing aids improve speech intelligibility and therefore reduce the amount of effort required in order to understand speech. The benefit of this is that the hearing aid wearer finds the listening experience less stressful and less tiring.
As wearing two hearing aids gives more improvement in speech intelligibility than wearing one aid, this means that listening effort and fatigue is further reduced. Several studies have actually measured this effect using EEG to analyse brain waves.
Your brain works on a “use it or lose it” basis. When you have a hearing loss and do not wear hearing aids, the auditory area of the brain does not receive proper stimulation. Although the volume needed for a sound to be heard may not be affected, the brain’s ability to decode and use the information can be.
This means that if hearing aids are not worn over a long period of time, speech can become unclear or distorted and this effect can remain even once hearing aids are worn. This effect is known as auditory deprivation and can particularly affect the brain’s ability to understand speech in noisy situations.
When someone with hearing loss in both ears wears only one hearing aid, the auditory area of the brain that corresponds to the unaided ear will not receive sufficient stimulation and may suffer from auditory deprivation.
Studies have looked at the word recognition abilities of people fitted with hearing aids and have found that people who wore only one hearing aid experienced a greater decline in their word recognition compared to people who wore hearing aids in both ears.
The cost can be a major factor when making a hearing aid choice. Sometimes people wonder if they should put all their money into one top-of-the-line hearing aid as opposed to two perfectly fine, but standard hearing aids.
If you have a certain budget that you need to stick to, you will generally hear better and be more satisfied with two entry or mid-level hearing aids than with one high-end hearing aid.
In addition, some technologies in higher-level hearing aids rely on having the two hearing aids working together for the features to work optimally. Your Audiologist will be able to discuss the benefits that different technology levels may provide and can also answer questions on hearing aid financing options.
If you’re still not convinced, chat to your Audiologist and ask if you can use two hearing aids on a trial basis. Attune offers free hearing aid trials and a 30-day money-back guarantee, to help you find the solution that suits your needs and preferences best.
If you have any questions about hearing aids or treating hearing loss, feel free to reach out to us or schedule an appointment with a local Attune hearing care professional.