Why Are Two Hearing Aids Better Than One

Current statistics show that hearing loss around the world is on the rise. In fact, over the last 30 years in the US alone, the number of people with hearing loss has doubled to an estimated 34 million. A more disturbing trend may be that more young people each year are being diagnosed with hearing loss due to reasons such as noise exposure and the increase in personal listening devices. Recognizing these trends and sensing the need to “heighten public awareness” about hearing loss and speech disorders, President Ronald Reagan in 1986 officially proclaimed the month of May as Better Hearing and Speech Month in the United States.

The task of educating the public about the causes and available treatment options for those experiencing hearing problems becomes an even higher priority for professionals in the hearing healthcare industry during this month. With the combined proactive efforts in May to help support the families as well as the individuals who are experiencing hearing loss, millions of people stand to be in the position to have their lives improved by simply being able to hear better. Hearing loss can cause emotional and psychological issues in addition to the physical challenges for an affected person, so this is the perfect time to stand up and applaud those committed to help make a difference during Better Hearing and Speech Month.

One of the questions that we are often asked is - “Are 2 hearing aids better than one?” In most cases the answer is a simple yes. However, there are many scenarios such as convenience, cost and hearing loss in only one ear where an individual might choose to wear only 1 aid. Therefore, here are a few facts about hearing, that may shed some light on things.

It is important to realize that our brain is designed to use both ears to fully understand our surroundings. Generally speaking, hearing instruments work in pairs cooperatively deliver a truer hearing experience. The ears are like muscles, and if you don't use them properly you may lose the ability to clearly understand speech with the non-hearing aid ear. Doctors call this auditory deprivation effect and it can lead to aggravated hearing loss in the ear that does not utilize an aid. In other words, it is not uncommon for individuals wearing only 1 hearing aid, to develop loss of hearing in their good ear over time as it overcompensates to offset the poor ear. The ultimate goal of hearing aids is not just to send sound into the ear. It is also essential to keep auditory nerves engaged and retrain the central auditory system in the brain. Since, most hearing impairments affect both ears you’re shortchanging one of your ears if you opt for a single device.

Here are a few more reasons why two hearing aids are better than one.

  • Better Hearing in Noise - An individual's hearing in noise can be improved by up to 3 times if the signal reaching each ear arrives at a slightly different moment in time as controlled by your hearing aids. This is technically referred to as phase. When the brain receives slightly different, yet still audible signals at the two ears, it has the ability to cross-correlate and process the primary signal (usually speech) better than if the signal is received monaurally.
  • Reduces Tinnitus - Tinnitus is the official term for what most people call “ringing in the ears” It can often be an effect from the trauma we encountered that caused our hearing loss. The loud noise exposure either brief or long term not only wears out the fine inner ear hair cells which causes hearing loss but can also cause a ringing sensation in our ears due to a lack of stimulation to the nerves that used to carry the sound information up to the brain. Studies have shown that bilateral amplification as provided by wearing two hearing aids can reduce or eliminate tinnitus. The same results were not found when a patient was using just one hearing aid.
  • Improved Clarity - With only one hearing aid an individual may have things louder on one side but it does not always bring back the clarity and understanding of speech that they were expecting. Research has shown that there is a 5 percent increase in speech perception when using bilateral amplification versus unilateral. In addition, bilateral amplification provided brightness, clarity, fullness, loudness, nearness, smoothness, fullness, spaciousness where unilateral amplification could not.
  • Improved Localization Ability - Localization is our ability to identify the direction a sound is coming from, or the location of a sound source. It is important to be able to identify where someone is when they are talking to us. If we are unable to locate them our brain has a difficult time focusing on what they are saying to us. The brain determines where a sound is coming from on the basis of 3 factors - the relative time in which the sound arrives at each ear, the relative difference in loudness at the two ears, and the relative difference in the pitch of the sound at the two ears. When there is a large difference in hearing between two ears (as might occur when a person with similar hearing in both ears only wears one hearing aid) the brain cannot make use of these subtle relative differences and their ability to locate sounds may suffer.
  • Cushioning of sound - If you are only wearing one hearing aid, this device has to pick up sudden loud noises on its own. Binaural hearing aid wearers are required to have the volume set lower than those who only wear one device, which allows for a higher tolerance of loud sounds.
  • Satisfaction - Hearing aids may take a few days or weeks to get used to, but patients will often have higher satisfaction ratings if they use two hearing aids instead of one.