Dr Tahir Hussain has had more patients coming in with complaints that their hearing ability had not improved despite using ear aids that they had either acquired on their own from online portals or sourced from friends abroad. “Not only were they not satisfied, they had developed some new difficulties,” says the ENT consultant at Max Hospital, Gurgaon. So as more Indians might be inclined to bring back hearing aids from the US, now that Americans over 18 can buy them over the counter without a prescription, he sounds a cautionary note that what applies there may not hold good here.
WHAT’S THE NEW POLICY AND WHY IT IS NOT WORTH EMULATING IN INDIA
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says it will make these devices widely available for those above 18 suffering mild to moderate hearing loss, help manufacturers scale operations, make them affordable and encourage innovation. The wide accessibility to hearing devices in the US is likely to percolate to many countries across the world, including India. Add to that many Indians travelling to the US can bring back such aids without medical consultation or simply ask friends to get it for them. “Hearing aids use air as the medium to transfer sound into the ear canal and are the most basic ways of dealing with hearing loss. But does it apply to your condition? Here the assumption is that it will be a one-size-fits all solution to all kinds of hearing problems. Besides, in the US, getting examined is a painful, long process. One has to get examined by a general physician who has to recommend the patient to an ENT specialist. He might further refer the case to an audiologist, all of which cost money and multiple visits. Now in India, accessibility and process are never an issue. For example, ENT and audiologist services are free at Government hospitals. And even in private facilities, you can access quality services at a cost between Rs 200 to Rs 1,000,” says Dr Hussain.
WHY YOU CANNOT IGNORE THE ENT BEFORE TRYING OUT THAT HEARING AID
Often the ease of using hearing aids may silence the real reason why you do not hear in the first place. “While it is true that most hearing problems are reported with ageing, mostly when you’re 65 or over, there could be several underlying factors causing it. For example, a hasty use of an aid without consulting a specialist may suppress the fact that you have an infection or a build-up of wax. It’s only when you get your ears examined will you know what ails you really,” says Dr Hussain. For example, fluid drainage from the ear, a sudden hearing loss or dizziness could be caused by a tumour on the hearing nerve. “An audiologist consultation is needed to identify the cause of the hearing loss, figure out whether the hearing aid amplifies according to your need or not, whether a basic unit with switch control is or is not graded to your situation. Given full control of their device, users sometimes turn up the volume too high, and once they get accustomed to it, may not adjust to other decibel values. We have to protect them against future hearing loss. Besides, a layman cannot measure his hearing capacity, decide how much sound he/she needs to amplify, or adjust volumes without expert guidance,” he adds.
ARBITRARY USE OF COMMERCIAL HEARING AIDS MAY CAUSE OTHER PROBLEMS
The success of a hearing aid depends on the right fit. “Every human ear is different and each device has to be properly fitted to each ear canal. If the device cannot fit in snugly, then the gaps may become breeding ground for other infections. Besides, those with a history of brain stroke, cerebral disorders or other neuro complications definitely need a clinical assessment and evaluation of whether these devices work for them or cause more anxieties,” Dr Hussain adds. So, hearing ability is not just a quickfix.