05/17/2016 01:57 pm ET Updated May 18, 2017

FAQs for Hearing Aids

1. Do I really need to see a physician before I am fitted with a hearing aid?

Hearing loss can sometimes be the result of a simple medical issue, such as ear wax. It can also be from an unidentified disease, such as hypothyroidism, diabetes, or hypertension. James C. Denneny III, MD, Executive Vice President and CEO of the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, recommends having a medical evaluation prior to being fit with a hearing aid to rule out treatable hearing loss. An ear wax cleaning might be all that's needed to eliminate the need for amplification.

2. What is the difference between a Personal Sound Amplifier and a hearing aid?

"Hearing aids and personal sound amplification products (PSAPS) can both improve our ability to hear sound," says Capt. Eric Mann, M.D., Ph.D., clinical deputy director of FDA's Division of Ophthalmic, and Ear, Nose, and Throat Devices. "They are both wearable, and some of their technology and function is similar." Dr. Mann notes, however, that the products are different in that only hearing aids are intended to make up for impaired hearing, and that choosing a PSAP as a substitute for a hearing aid "can cause a delay in diagnosis of a potentially treatable condition. And that delay can allow the condition to get worse and lead to other complications."

3. I can hear so why do people around me think I need a hearing aid?

It is really hard to tell what you cannot hear. The people around you may have noticed that you are responding incorrectly to questions and increasing the volume on the television or phone. A hearing test is non-invasive and painless.

Cynthia Compton-Conley, Ph.D. CEO of Compton-Conley Consulting, LLC, says, "It is not uncommon for people with mild high-frequency hearing loss to think they can hear fine. However, this type of hearing loss makes it difficult to hear certain sounds, especially when in noisy situations.  Watching the talker's face (speechreading) helps, but misunderstandings can still occur, such as when a wife tells her husband to shut up and he stands up."  

4. Isn't there a conflict of interest for the same person to prescribe and sell a hearing aid?

Consumers should be aware that hearing aid dispensers/audiologists carry a limited number of brands and may not have knowledge of all hearing aids on the market. The mix they offer is based on such concerns as percentage of earnings, incentive pricing, delivery schedule, quality, and customer support. Some of these concerns, such as percentage of earnings, are not in the best interest of the consumer. Many hearing aid companies provide free equipment or incentives or perks to dispensers based on their sales volume.

According to Dr. Christine K. Cassel, co-chair of the PCAST Hearing Technologies Working Group, "There is a potential conflict of interest in that situation. It shouldn't be illegal but consumers should have other options and conflicts should be transparent."

5. How do I know what is the best hearing aid for me?

Currently, consumers are dependent on the person prescribing and/or selling the hearing aid. Dr. Denneny says there are many factors, like the type of loss, speech discrimination, and hearing aid dispenser's experience, along with trial and error, that help determine which hearing aid is best for you. Select an audiologist (if possible, through word of mouth) that you feel comfortable working with.

6. Why are hearing aids so expensive?

"There just isn't enough competition in the marketplace. Innovation drives costs down, which is what happened in the electronics market. Big box stores have already made a big step to reduce the prices," according to Dr. Cassel.

Janice S. Lintz is the CEO of Hearing Access & Innovations, which is the only company dedicated to helping the world's businesses, cultural institutions and government agencies improve their accessibility for people with hearing loss.