When someone says “hearing aids” most of us imagine the bulky, over the ear, blocks of dated electronics that only amplify noise; however, the last 10 years in technological advancement has seen leaps and bounds.

Hearing Aid Basics

To understand what hearing aids are, let’s start with the basics. Without getting into the weeds of anatomical structure and function, hearing, on a basic level, is nothing more than our body and brain converting vibrations into the sounds of life. Our ears are incredible. There are tiny “hairs” that shift when vibrations meet the fluid-filled area around them. Those “hairs” convert the vibrations into electrical signals that then transmit to the brain.  Our brain translates that into the noises we hear every day.

But what happens when your hair thins? No, I am not talking about looking like Mr. Clean, I mean when the “hairs” in your ear no longer transmit these electrical signals. It happens when we age, just like on many of our heads, but there is no Rogaine for hearing. When we introduce noise exposure on the job, we accelerate the loss.

Your Job May Be Creating Hearing Loss

To put things into perspective imagine going to a rock concert every day. First responders and construction workers experience this daily even with ear protection. In fact, approximately 24% of the hearing difficulty among U.S. workers is caused by occupational exposures, according to the CDC.

So, what do we do to keep from saying “What?” every time we try to converse?

A Brief History of Hearing Aids

Mankind’s solution for many years was turning the volume up. In the pre-computer age, we simply put hollowed horns to the side of our heads to collect more noise.

Photo Credit: By Frederick Dekkers – mechanical reproduction of 2D image, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18697834

Up through the late 20th century, we essentially did the same thing with a basic microphone and speaker. Inadvertently, we were accelerating the loss when we turned the hearing aids up to loud.

Photo credit: By we-make-money-not-art – https://www.flickr.com/photos/nearnearfuture/358027752/sizes/l/, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20230404

But now, we have a new solution.

Current hearing aids are minicomputers. When I say mini, I mean small enough that we can even put them in the ear unseen.

Photo Credit: Jonas Bergsten

These hearing aids work by converting the noise BEFORE it goes into the ear, amplifying the individual frequencies that the patient needs, and sending mild sounds instead of even louder noises into the ear canal. By doing so, we preserve the “hairs” mentioned earlier. We extend the lifetime of our own hearing by merging technology and innovation.

The Best Approach is the Proactive Approach

As a work comp company, we see hearing loss claims every day. Certainly, there are fewer new employees losing their hearing now that we know how to protect our ears better, but employees who have been working for the last 20 years on a firetruck or next to a jackhammer don’t have the luxury of turning back time. This puts employers in a difficult position. How can you safeguard your employee’s lifestyle and job without breaking the bank? Believe it or not, active management of hearing aid claims is far more economical and less stressful than combating them.

First, how do you know what you’re paying for? Your hearing aid partner should monitor, and be transparent, about the recommendations for the treatment you receive. Do claimants need the cheapest hearing aids made? Statistically, no, they choose not to use them and you end up paying for an expensive paperweight. But does that mean they need the “top of the line” in order to use them? Also, no. Very few patients require the highest level technology available as most hearing loss claims follow the same “curve”.

Your hearing partner should ensure your claimants are getting what they need. An appropriate recommendation saves you money AND ensures top-quality care.

Secondly, A pair of hearing aids should last anywhere between 4-8 years on average depending on how they are maintained. Many employers make the mistake of approaching the claim with a “one and done” mentality without partnering with someone who knows the ins and outs of hearing loss management.

The trouble is hearing aids, like vehicles, need regular tune-ups or the wear and tear of everyday use will chisel away at the expected lifetime. Batteries, wax traps, domes, cleanings, annual exams, reprogrammings, etc. are all things NEEDED in order to get the true value of what you pay for as an adjuster.

These small costs and appointments can add YEARS to the life of a pair of hearing aids. Are these things included in your warranty? If not, did you get overcharged? A hearing aid partner acting responsibly will make sure you get the “one and done” feeling with the peace of mind that the claimant’s care won’t suffer.

The only thing we can do is our best to make life a little easier. Safeguard yourself by making sure you wear your hearing protection. Help your fellow employees dissolve the stigma of hearing aids. Encourage your coworkers to get their hearing tested and follow what the audiologist says. You will be doing them (and probably their family) a favor.

But who knows, by the time you read this, we may have even smaller hearing aids.

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