Hearing Aids Can Increase Your Life Span?

RadioMD’s Melanie Cole discusses hearing loss with Dr. Sreekant Cherukuri.

Melanie: Many people know that hearing aids can improve the quality of your hearing and the quality of your life, but some don’t know that it can also improve the quantity of your life. My guest today is Dr. … I said it perfectly before the show. Sreekant Cherukuri is Board-Certified Otolaryngologist based in Chicago and the founder of MDHearingAid. We’re in Chicago too Dr. Cherukuri.

Let’s talk about hearing aids. Really, people who have hearing issues don’t always identify them. Sometimes their kids or their spouses get so aggravated and upset, they say, “God, go see an audiologist. Get your hearing checked.” It’s something that still carries a stigma. Tell us some of the risks of not getting your hearing checked, or not getting it taken care of if something is going on.

Dr. Cherukuri: Hearing loss, people assume it’s just a normal part of aging like arthritis or some other things, but you’re correct that of all the disabilities and elements we get in our age, this is one that we are very comfortable ignoring. People think it’s just a communication issue, but it’s far more than that. There’s been a lot of research in the last 10 years and even in the last few years linking untreated hearing loss, meaning if you ignore the hearing loss or don’t get it treated, to a higher risk of mortality.

Meaning people who had hearing loss that was untreated have a higher risk of dying than those that did use hearing aids. It’s more than that. We don’t think of our ears as the main organ of balance, but that’s what they are. There have been studies that show that people with untreated hearing loss have a higher risk of falling. One of the things you may know is that fall is the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries amongst the elderly.

Melanie: They certainly increase the mortality rate and balance, and all that in an ear. As a trainer, I work with people on functional training and balance so, so often, and I do notice that my hearing impaired patients definitely have a little bit more of an issue with it. You even see it in kids with an ear infection, so you know that this is a big part of balance and that can increase falls increasing mortality. Tell us first what is a hearing aid intended to do? If someone goes for that hearing check, what is a hearing aid even supposed to do?

Dr. Cherukuri: A lot of times, hearing aids are linked or compared to glasses, but there’s a general difference is that where glasses help to reflect the image on the proper part of a working retina. The hearing aid is trying to amplify sounds to a nonworking or an impaired hearing nerve. That’s the big difference is the nerve is not working right, so the hearing suffers.

Hearing aid primarily is going to take input like voices and sounds, and amplify them to a level where the nerve can hear it. Since the nerve is damaged, it will never be normal hearing like you’d had when you were younger. That being said, it’s till much better than ignoring it. That’s in a nutshell what a hearing aid does.

Melanie: I always find that stigma interesting, because nobody’s yelling at a blind person. I said this too off the air, but I know people are so impatient with people with hearing loss that they’re like, “Why can’t you understand me? I’m speaking slow. I’m speaking loud,” or something along those lines. They would never yell at another kind of disability, but for some reasons, they feel impatient with people with hearing loss. Tell us about hearing aids now. Are there different styles of hearing aids that used to be this big box that sat on your chest and had wires like the kids have today with the head pods. What’s different about them now?

Dr. Cherukuri: One I want to address here is stigma. The funny thing is people that have hearing loss that have chosen to ignore it, they think that wearing a device to help them communicate will make them look old. What they don’t realize is when they don’t hear and they’re asking people to repeat, they seem less capable and less confident, and in fact much older. That’s the irony of the stigma. You are correct. The older hearing aids were big, bulky things that sat behind your ear, and told everybody, “Hey, I’m old and hearing impaired.”

The newer ones are very, very tiny. They can go behind the ear, so you barely see them, or in the ear. Their function is a lot better than just five or 10 years ago. The challenge with hearing aids which we’ll get into later is the fact that Medicare and most insurance companies don’t cover them, and they are generally several thousand dollars each, which is the out of pocket expense, which many, many people with hearing loss would have a hard time with.

Melanie: Like retainers, they’re so expensive, and people tend to loss them because they’re so tiny. They’re trying to change the batteries. I helped a lot of old people change the batteries in their hearing aids. Those tiny, little batteries, they’re hard to grasp, and then they drop the thing. Then they’re searching all over for this tiny, little hearing aid. I think you ENTs need to come up with a way for these little, tiny hearing aids to not be able to be dropped or something like that.

What are some of the different kinds that are out there?

Dr. Cherukuri: In terms of the general categories of hearing aids, you’ve identified one challenge. People want something that’s less visible, but they also want something that they can handle and change the batteries easily, which means on one hand, the small size, and on the other hand, the slightly larger size. It’s a challenge of addressing the market on what they want.

In terms of the hearing aids, there’s two general kinds. There’s custom hearing aids which are the traditional type of hearing aid. You go to a doctor or audiologist. You get a hearing test, and you get custom program hearing aid to your exact loss. That is the best solution, but it’s also the most expensive, and again about $2,000 each on average out of pocket.

The second type of hearing aid, which is one our company MDHearingAid have developed, is a non-custom hearing aid. These are offered in a direct the consumer fashion. They are still FDA registered. What we did, our team of audiologists and ear, nose, and throat doctors, we evaluated thousands of hearing tests, and realize that the vast majority of people fall into one, two, or three categories of hearing configurations. We pair that with a volume doll in a program setting. This way, the consumer can make the changes based on their needs and their environment to what suits them the best. Our hearing aids are $200 to $500, so far more in line with consumer electronic prices, and much more affordable.

Melanie: That’s really very cool. Tell us where they can find them, the hearing aids.

Dr. Cherukuri: They’re available online at MDHearingAid.com. If you can go to that website, you can also get brochures. They’re ordered by mail order, but the beauty of it all is the convenience. Typically, a traditional hearing aid takes several weeks to go to the doctor or audiologist. Get the testing. Get the fitting. Get the reprogramming, and that all comes with a significant expense.

Ours are shipped directly to the consumer’s home. They are able to make changes in their home without having to make separate appointments. The beauty of it all is if the product doesn’t meet your needs, you have a 45-day in-home trial with a money back guarantee.

Melanie: I like the days to go back of ear trumpets, when you see those old guys holding up their ear trumpets. We only have a couple of minutes left. Tell us doctor about implantable hearing aids. Is this the wave of the future? What do you see happening?

Dr. Cherukuri: Right now, there are a few different types of implantable hearing devices. The one we’ve all heard about is cochlear implants, which initially came to the market for young people who had congenital deafness, and now they could hear. The indications where a cochlear implant have expanded, so now that there’s a fair amount of adult and elderly people that if hearing aids cannot work for them, a cochlear implant is the option.

That is a surgery. It requires a fair amount of follow up, but the one thing is when a noninvasive device like a hearing aid is not an option, now a surgical option is available. Then the other types of implantable hearing aids, there are …

Melanie: We only have about 35 seconds, so I’d love you to really give your best advice doctor about …

Dr. Cherukuri: The best device is hearing loss, ignoring it can lead to balance disorders, Alzheimers and dementia, social isolation, depression, and anxiety. I tell everybody that your quality of life, the amount of enjoyment, the number of new memories you can make will be so much more magnified if you’re using hearing aids and rejoining society and enjoying every moment of your life.

Melanie: He used the word magnified. Isn’t that the truth and balance and isolation. There’s so many things that not only does it increase the quality of your life, but the quantity as well, so it can save you maybe a few years. You’ll never know. Get your hearing checked. If you have to, go see an audiologist. This is Melanie Cole’s Health Radio. Thanks for listening. Stay well.