Why You Should Wear Two Hearing Aids
Contributed by Brande Plotnick, MS, MBA, managing editor, Healthy Hearing
December 21, 2017
If you are ready to confront your untreated hearing loss once and for all, you may have lots of questions about the process. One of the most frequent questions we get asked at Healthy Hearing is whether or not two hearing aids are better than one. The short answer: a resounding "yes."
Wearing two hearing aids makes just as
much sense as wearing two shoes.
Our auditory system is made up of our two ears, our hearing nerves and the brain, and all parts work together to decode the sounds we hear, understand speech and pay less attention to background noise. Wearing two hearing aids, also called binaural hearing aids, makes intuitive sense. After all, two corrective lenses in your reading glasses are better than just one. Two shoes are better than just one. Being able to hear with both ears as nature intended by wearing two hearing aids seems right if you have a hearing loss in both ears.
For decades, research in the field of hearing science has supported the commonsense idea of wearing two hearing aids. Here are are a few convincing reasons to equip yourself with a pair of devices instead of just one.
USE IT OR LOSE IT
You probably know one of the best ways to keep your body healthy and in good working order is to use it - that means getting regular exercise, taking the stairs instead of the elevator and getting your steps in for the day. Conversely, when we don't move and use our muscles, they tend to weaken and can even atrophy over time.
Even though your ears aren't muscles, depriving them of sound can make the auditory nerve pathways and the associated centers in the brain less effective at decoding the sound around you. Understanding speech, particularly in the presence of noise gets more difficult even when the sound is loud enough for you to hear it. Hearing healthcare professionals call this auditory deprivation.
Wearing two hearing aids means each ear gets the stimulus it needs to stay at peak performance. A study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Audiology looked at the word recognition abilities of people fitted with one hearing aid versus two. The researchers found that a significantly higher number of the study subjects wearing only one hearing aid experienced a decline in their word recognition compared to those who were binaurally fit.
One of the biggest reasons you may be considering getting hearing aids is that, besides not being able hear at normal levels, you find that even if you can hear it, the sound isn't clear. This may mean you have trouble understanding what others are saying, especially if there is background noise competing. Understanding speech is the foundation of good communication and there's no better reason to seek hearing treatment.
Research has shown wearing two hearing aids makes for clearer conversation, making it possible to better understand sound. The study concluded a pronounced improvement in sound quality and clarity and higher speech discrimination test scores for subjects who were binaurally fit.
MAKING THE MOST OF AMPLIFICATION
Wearing two hearing aids provides binaural summation. According to the Encyclopedia of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery, binaural summation is when a listener perceives greater intensity (volume) of sound when both ears are presented with a stimulus at once compared to hearing the stimulus in either ear alone. This phenomenon also is associated with an improved ability to discriminate frequencies and improved speech understanding whether you're in noise or in quiet.
Having an increased perception of volume from wearing two hearing aids means you'll be able to get more "bang for your buck" in terms of loudness. Neither of your two devices will need to have the power output or be turned up as high as a single device trying to do the work of two. This can help you conserve hearing aid batteries and may even mean you can wear smaller hearing aids since not as much power is needed.
IMPROVED SOUND LOCALIZATION
Knowing what direction a sound is coming from, or sound localization, is something people with normal hearing take for granted. From the time we are born and we learn to turn our head in the direction of our mother's voice, we learn to perfect this skill. Not only is finding the source of sound helpful in everyday life, it can be an important safety consideration. Knowing where those ambulance sirens are in relation to your car helps you know when and where to pull over to allow emergency vehicles to pass.
Our two ears work in delicate harmony to make localization easy, and people who have single-sided deafness can attest to having difficulty with this skill. Dr. Francis Kuk writes in the Hearing Review that to improve localization, the first requirement is binaural cues from wearing two hearing aids.
If the above reasons aren't enough for you, many hearing healthcare professionals know their patients report higher hearing aid satisfaction when they wear two hearing aids instead of just one. In a 2011 study, while 46 percent of subjects reported a preference for wearing only one device, it was the subjects who reported having more hearing difficulty in daily life that showed a strong preference for binaural hearing aids. That means for all those spontaneous, dynamic listening situations you are in where your success can't be measured by any test in a hearing care professional's office, wearing two hearing aids will bring more satisfaction. And, isn't that why you want hearing aids to begin with?
If you aren't sure whether or not you need to wear two hearing aids (or even one), contact our hearing instrument specialists. They will give you a thorough hearing test and provide the best advice for how to get back to hearing your best.
Brande Plotnick holds a master’s degree and MBA from the University of Louisville. Her career in hearing care spans sales, marketing and content creation and she enjoys helping people with hearing loss seek help and be their own advocates.