Cell Phones and Hearing Aids

February 23, 2015

One of the most common questions I get asked is, “why doesn’t my hearing aid work on the phone?” If you’ve been frustrated by your inability to use a phone with your hearing aids, you’re not alone. Hearing aid compatibility (HAC) with cell phones and land line phones is one of the most common complaints patients have. They are also somewhat surprised to find out that usually, it’s not the hearing aid’s fault. Generally, it is an incompatibility with the phone or is due to older technology in the phone itself.

So, let’s talk a little terminology before we go much further: In general, hearing aids are cell phone and land line phone compatible. Hearing aids have what is called an “M” rating, which represents the potential for experiencing interference between the hearing aid microphone and a phone. Most hearing aids have an “M” rating of 2. The highest possible score is a 4. Cell phones also have an “M” rating, ranging from 1 to 4. In order to get the best possible hearing aid compatibility, the “M” rating of the hearing aid and the “M” rating of the phone should add up to 5 or more. The higher the number, the better the compatibility. There is also a “T” rating for cell phones that ranges from 1 to 4. This rating represents the cell phone’s capability to send the hearing aid information through electromagnetic coupling. The best possible hearing aid compatibility would be a cell phone with an M4/T4 rating. Unfortunately, there is no “T” rating for hearing aids at this time. And, even worse, land line phones are neither M nor T rated. To be considered hearing aid compatible, land line phones must simply have a way to electromagnetically interface with your hearing aid. On the manufacturer’s box, an “HAC” means that the phone is technically compatible. How it will actually work is different between manufacturers and even different from model to model by the same manufacturer.

When you decide to purchase a new cell phone, there are a few things to consider. Researching the different phones that are available from your carrier before your enter the store will be an easy way to save some time. You might find that you know more than the person helping you behind the counter!  Here are some things you should know:

Different cell phone carriers use different transmission technologies. The two most common are CDMA, used by Sprint and Verizon and GSM, used by AT&T and T-Mobile. Interestingly, phones using the GSM technology can only achieve a rating of M3/T3. Remember, the higher the rating, the better likelihood for compatibility. Once you’ve found the phone you think will best suit your needs, it will benefit you to try out the phone, if possible, before purchasing. Only carrier stores are required to allow you to test the phone you are interested in prior to purchasing. The only way to know if your hearing aid and the phone are compatible is to make an actual call. Putting the phone up to your ear without it being turned on really tells you nothing and you may be surprised by the lack of compatibility when you get home if you haven’t tried it prior to your purchase. The last but very important piece of the puzzle is the type of hearing aid that you’re wearing. To interface with your cell phone or land line phone, you must put the phone over the microphones of the hearing aid. For in-the-ear hearing aids, this is a simple thing as all of the working parts are in-the-ear. For behind -the-ear hearing aids, though, you must remember to lift the phone up over the edge of the ear, where the behind-the-ear piece is resting. If you fail to do so, you may not have connection with the phone simply because they are not in close enough proximity. It may feel a bit awkward at first, but you will hear so much better!

Finding a good solution to your phone issues may seem overwhelming. There is a lot of information! We are always happy to help if you have questions. Also, visit for in-depth information on cell phone and land line phone compatibility.

How the Zebrafish May Cure Hearing Loss

February 16, 2015

“I’m sorry, your hearing loss is permanent.” For thousands of Americans each year, hearing loss that requires help for better communication becomes a reality. In fact, nearly one out of every ten people has a hearing loss in the United States. The most common hearing loss is damage to the inner ear hair cells, or cilia, that reside in the cochlea. The damage, called sensorineural hearing loss, can be caused by many things, including excessive noise exposure, disease processes, exposure to medications and due to the “accumulation of birthdays.” In fact, the prevalence of hearing loss increases exponentially in each decade after the age of 60.

Why is sensorineural hearing loss permanent?
Once hair cells die, they cannot be replaced. They do not regrow or regenerate. These cells are the single most important part of the mechanical working part of the ear. When a sound enters the ear, it passes down the ear canal to the eardrum, where the vibrations from the sound are passed on to the three smallest bones in the body: the malleus, incus and stapes. Or, hammer, anvil and stirrup, as they are more commonly called. This chain of bones works like a piston system, increasing the intensity of the sound and sending it in to the inner part of the ear where the hair cells reside. The hair cells bend when the third bone in the system pushes in to the cochlea. This bending action creates an electrical signal in the hearing nerve, which then sends a signal to the brain to be processed as sound. If the hair cells are damaged, the information cannot be passed on to the hearing nerve. When someone has damaged or missing hair cells, the result will be permanent hearing loss.

What’s being done about it?
In recent years, a research team at the University of Washington’s Merrill Bloedel Research Center has been working on finding a way to resolve the problem of permanent hearing loss. The most recent research involves the zebrafish. The zebrafish has hair cells running along the sides of its body that help sense vibrations in the water. The vibrations are converted to electrical information that is then sent to the brain. Sound familiar? Unlike human hair cells, though, the hair cells of the zebrafish are able to regenerate when damaged. Researchers hope to find out how the zebrafish regenerates their hair cells and use this information to develop a way for humans to regenerate damaged or missing hair cells. If they can do so, the researchers would, in effect, have a cure for the majority of permanent hearing loss sufferers.

A cure is still a long way away. But the research is promising and the researchers are dedicated to finding the answer for permanent hearing loss. To find out more about the research being conducted at the University of Washington’s Merrill Bloedel Research Center, visit

National Volunteer Organization Helps Children Hear

February 9, 2015

Alejandra was born in northern Guatemala, just one hour from the famous Mayan ruins of Tikal. She was the first daughter born to a poor family. Her father made only five dollars a day working as a delivery driver for a local lumber mill while her mother worked as an aid at a local elementary school. Alejandra’s family soon realized that their baby had a problem. She didn’t cry when the loud sound of a backfiring bus sounded in the night or wake up from noisy firecrackers during festivals in the village. Alejandra’s parents were very concerned. They saved what they could for months to pay for the 15-hour bus ride into Guatemala City with Alejandra, now a two year old, in hopes to find out what was wrong with their precious little one. They saw an ear specialist who tested young Alejandra. The results confirmed their worst fear. Alejandra was deaf. She would never learn to talk or be able to go to school, they were told. Heartbroken, Alejandra’s parents returned to their village to do the best they could to teach her to communicate.

Several years later, Alejandra’s aunt heard a radio announcement. American doctors were coming to help children with ear and hearing problems. Perhaps they could help Alejandra. They had to go see if anything could be done. When Alejandra’s parents arrived at the clinic on the appointed day, they were amazed to see over a hundred families with children already waiting in line to be seen. They were fearful that Alejandra would not be able to receive care. They joined the line and waited all day for their turn. Finally, Alejandra was next in line. After a medical examination, Alejandra had a hearing evaluation. The audiologist happily told her parents that, although Alejandra had a severe hearing loss, she could be helped with hearing aids. She was fit with a hearing aid that same day. At seven years of age, Alejandra heard her mother’s voice for the very first time.

Alejandra was fitted with her first hearing aid by a group of medical professionals from Healing the Children in Seattle, Washington. She now wears two hearing aids and has learned to understand some speech sounds to augment the sign language that she has been taught. She receives speech and language stimulation services in her own community. Every six months she has follow up care with an audiology technician who has been trained and is supported by Healing the Children. Each year, when the audiologists return to Guatemala, Alejandra is there patiently waiting in line to see them again. And her story is not unique. Alejandra is one of many of Guatemala’s children who now have a chance to go to school and to hear their family call them by name.

Audiologists with Healing the Children have been working in Guatemala for the last seven years. They serve in seven different towns and villages in Guatemala and have fit over 1200 children with hearing aids. The otolaryngology surgical teams have provided hundreds of ear, nose and throat surgeries in the Capitol, as well as in remote locations in Guatemala. Healing the Children provides training, equipment and supplies to personnel in three locations in Guatemala for follow up care for the children who have been helped. Guatemalan audio technicians now travel to local schools and provide hearing screening to identify children in need of care in their local communities. Future plans for Healing the Children include advanced training workshops for deaf educators and programming services for children that have cochlear implants who can’t travel to Guatemala City for care. The organization’s ultimate goal in Guatemala is to work themselves out of a job so that they can take their teams to different countries where others like Alejandra are waiting to be helped.

If you’d like to help this great organization to continue their mission in Guatemala and make sure that others like Alejandra receive the gift of hearing, please visit the Healing the Children website at

Hearing Develops In The Womb

February 2, 2015

FACT: Babies Hear Before They’re Even Born

Did you know that your baby’s hearing is intact by the third trimester? Ultrasounds show that an unborn baby, still in the womb, will actually turn his or her head in response to a sound. Studies have even shown that your unborn child can hear sounds as early as 20 weeks. This information has led to a movement among new parents to expose their children to the sounds of their voices and to classical music, which is said to improve spatial development and increase the growth of neural connections in the brain; something called “the Mozart effect.”

HeartNoises from outside the body are muffled but they make it through surprisingly well. Low frequency sounds tend to be clearer in the womb than higher frequency sounds. Men’s voices, for instance, come through clearer than women’s, and music is also easily recognizable. Research has shown that fetuses will move in time to music they enjoy. Research also indicates that a fetus can even hear and recognize specific speech patterns and intonations, although they probably cannot recognize words themselves. Some studies have shown that babies after birth will recognize a story read repeatedly to them while in the womb and that babies are soothed more readily by the voice that read to them.

What this indicates is that babies start learning by listening and interacting with the sounds and voices around them even before they are born. When a baby is born with hearing loss, many sounds and voices are not heard and the child’s speech and language development can be delayed. But more importantly, the child has not developed that early bond to his or her caregivers. In effect, babies born with hearing loss start out with a large disadvantage compared to babies who are born without hearing loss. That’s why early detection is so critical.

Hearing Loss Can Be Found Early

It’s important to identify hearing loss in children as early as possible. Early identification allows families to make decisions quickly that can affect the speech, language, and social development of their child. Each year in the United States, as many as 12,000 babies are born with a hearing loss. Fortunately, almost all states now offer hearing screening for all babies born in a hospital. The hearing screening is easy, painless and can identify hearing loss with great accuracy. It only takes a few minutes and generally, the child sleeps through the entire testing process.

If you happen to live in a rural area that doesn’t offer newborn hearing screening or if your baby was born in a clinic or at home, you should have your baby’s hearing screened for hearing loss no later than 1 month of age. If your baby does not pass the hearing screening, it’s very important to make an appointment for a full hearing test no later than 3 months of age.

The goal for every newborn child identified with hearing loss is to make sure that they receive medical, audiologic, educational and support services no later than 6 months of age. Receiving services at this early age is crucial to developing the communication and language skills that are necessary for success in school and in life.
If your child didn’t have a hearing screening at birth, call our office today to schedule an appointment. We’d be glad to help.

Typical Battery Life for a Hearing Aid

January 25, 2015

Once you’ve purchased hearing aids, you’ll spend some time with your hearing healthcare provider learning what to expect from them, how to clean and maintain them and how to use them properly. One of the things you will learn is how to change the battery. You might be surprised, and maybe slightly disappointed by the fact that hearing aid batteries have a relatively short lifespan. Considering that the battery in your TV remote, which generally gets used on a daily basis can last a year a more, how is it possible that your hearing aid battery only lasts a week or so? Hearing aid battery life is related to two things: the size of the battery itself and the amount of current draw required by the hearing aid. The larger the battery, the greater the energy capacity. But, two different hearing aids using the same size battery can have different battery life due to the difference in the current energy draw by the hearing aid circuit.

Each hearing aid manufacturer has several different types of hearing aid technology. Some technologies are quite sophisticated, making many changes to the incoming and outgoing sound. The more sophisticated the technology, the more battery drain it generally takes to run the circuit. TugBattery life will also depend on what the wearer is asking from the hearing aid. If, for instance, the listener is exposed to varied listening environments (noisy and quiet, speech noise as well as “background noise”) for many hours a day in one week and then the next week, the listener has a quiet week at home, the battery may not last as long the first week as it does the second.

The nice thing about new technology is that now, you don’t have to guess when the battery needs to be replaced. New technology is hearing aids allows the circuit to detect when the battery is about to be depleted and notify the wearer with an audible tone or signal. In other hearing aids, like the S and Wi Series from Starkey and the Mind and Clear series from Widex have an audible voice that says, “battery” when the battery needs replacing. What’s even better is that the voice doesn’t have to say “battery” in English. The listener has a choice of languages…from Turkish to Welsh; German to Japanese, whatever your preference, whether you speak the language or not, you can have a say in what your hearing aid says to you. The modifiable battery low indicator is not a necessary feature but many hearing aid wearers enjoy this little extra.

Typical battery life depends on the hearing aid itself. Your hearing healthcare provider will be able to tell you what to expect from your particular hearing aid. And remember, you don’t have to worry. Whether the typical life expectancy is 5 days or 2 weeks, your hearing aid will let you know when it’s time for a replacement.