Why do hearing aids cost so much?

October 14, 2013

By Brenna Carroll

Some may be reluctant to pursue amplification based on comments from friends and relatives reporting that hearing aids are “expensive”. These statements can be misleading. The costs associated with amplification upon the initial fitting can sound intimidating, but it is important to consider that the average life expectancy of a pair of hearing aids is 5 to 7 years. Breaking down the cost of amplification over this period is often comparable to a monthly cell phone or cable television bill.

The costs associated with a hearing aid fitting include not only the device itself but also the professional skills and time associated with appropriately fitting the device through verification and follow-up. Verification refers to measurements made to determine that the hearing aids meet a set of standards which includes volume, output, cosmetic appeal, and physical comfort. Using evidence-based practices, real-ear measurements are obtained using a small microphone placed in the ear with the hearing aid to ensure that appropriate volume is provided for different signals (such as speech). If earmolds or custom hearing aids are ordered, it is necessary to ensure that their characteristics (type of tubing, venting, style and material) are appropriate for the degree of hearing loss and physical characteristics of the ear.

Hearing aids are available in a wide range of makes and models, and a hearing aid solution that works for one person may not work for another. Additional costs include professional interpretations and recommendations regarding hearing aid style and technology based on diagnostic test results and an understanding of your lifestyle and listening needs. Evaluation of your personal listening needs is completed through a comprehensive discussion with you. Your audiologist will also consider physical and anatomical factors that can help determine the best hearing aids for you. These factors include dexterity, ear size and shape, wax production, skin conditions and aesthetics.

The cost of a hearing aid also includes follow-up visits in addition to the initial fitting and orientation appointment. Adapting to amplification will take time, and follow-up appointments to make adjustments to the device may be necessary as your brain becomes accustomed to hearing new sounds. Everyone has unique tolerances to sound and adjustments may be needed to tailor the response of the devices based on a listener’s experiences over an extended period of time as sounds are reintroduced to the ear.

Amplification costs also include the hearing aid technology and the research and development associated with the design the devices. The technology in modern digital hearing aids is sophisticated and consists of microphones, amplifiers, miniature CPU (computer) systems and is designed to enhance the sounds from the environment. All sounds (including speech) are filtered through a series of processors to provide the best signal possible.

In addition to providing customized amplification based on the user’s hearing loss, the device is constantly analyzing the environment and making adjustments based on the type and amount of background noise present in a listener’s unique situations. The hearing aids must also be resilient for daily use. Hearing aids are designed to withstand daily exposure to skin oils, hair spray and other hair products, moisture from the air and ear wax.

Reviewing the global picture of obtaining amplification and exploring all of the costs associated with the price of a hearing aid removes some of the mystery behind the “expensive” cost that is sometimes cited. 

Using amplification is a long term investment in your auditory health and the resulting improvement in speech understanding and communication with loved ones is priceless.