How Hearing Works

The Advantages of Binaural Hearing

Has your audiologist recommended binaural hearing devices? Don’t panic. Binaural simply means two ears — which is what nature gave you.

Two ears are, indeed, better than one for a number of reasons. Just like our eyes, our brains are wired to receive sound from both ears. Many first time hearing aid wearers think starting with just one hearing aid may be easier to adjust to or save them some money; however, two hearing aids are truly better than one. Here are some reasons why:

• Better localization — the ability to tell where sounds are coming from

• Better hearing in background noise

• Better sound quality (mono versus stereo)

• Better hearing for soft sounds, such as children’s voices and sounds of nature

• Less strain on you while listening — with only one hearing aid you may often strain to hear various sounds and become fatigued, but with two hearing aids, listening is more relaxed

• Listening balance — you won’t be turning your good ear to hear. Higher success and satisfaction — studies indicate people who wear two hearing aids are much more satisfied with their hearing aids.

Studies have also shown when only one hearing aid is worn and the other ear is deprived of sound, the “use it or lose it” principle applies, causing the onset of auditory deprivation in the non-amplified ear. In other words, the word recognition ability in the unaided ear decreases from lack of stimulation — and this spells trouble for those who think they can successfully add a second aid later.

So, you may save a few dollars by going the one-hearing-aid route, but you may also find that one hearing aid causes more trouble than what your savings is worth. Let’s take a closer look at why two hearing aids are almost always better than the one-hearing-aid approach to hearing loss.

Improved localization

Localization is the ability to detect and determine the source of a sound. It’s a natural and sophisticated process that enables you to pinpoint the exact location of a bird twittering in the trees 100 yards away, for example. The reason for this is simple. Sound travels in waves — disturbances in the air. The hair cells in our inner ears  have the miraculous ability to turn mechanical sound waves into electrical impulses that are sent to the hearing centers of the brain, where the sound is interpreted and localization occurs. When that bird tweets and twitters, the sounds it makes reach one ear slightly ahead of the other ear. If the bird is to your right, the right ear hears the sound a split second before the left ear.

The brain is able to localize the sound because of this split second difference in the time it takes the sound to be processed. The hearing centers of the brain are able to pinpoint the location and source of the sound. Localization is an essential part of the listening experience. It warns us of danger, points us in the direction of a distant caller, or tells us which machine is running on the factory floor.

The ability to pinpoint the source of a sound is something you use everyday, though you may not even realize it. In fact, in most cases, you don’t realize it. It happens automatically — at least when both ears are operating at peak performance levels. Indeed, you may save a few dollars by only buying a hearing aid for the ear that’s experiencing hearing loss, but you’ll also lose some or all of your ability to place the source of critical sounds. And that’s not going to enhance your hearing. In fact, it could actually cause confusion and place you in danger because you think the car horn is coming from over there when, in fact, it’s coming from right behind you.

Many new hearing devices employ wireless communication between the two instruments, allowing them to work together to ensure localization cues are maintained between the two ears. The left and right hearing aids communicate with each other to ensure they are utilizing the same listening strategies in different environments. When two hearing devices are wirelessly linked, they “talk” with each other. This allows the two hearing aids to improve the ability to locate the direction of sounds and ultimately improve your listening experience.

The result? You’ll be able to localize sound — to precisely pinpoint the source of all the sounds you hear throughout the day. This is especially important when in background noise.

Easy listening

No, we’re not talking about music here. Advantages listed of wearing two hearing aids include improved listening in background noise as well as reduced strain while listening. Let’s face it, background noise is annoying — even for people with normal hearing! So for persons with hearing loss wearing hearing aids, background noise can be even more annoying. Using two hearing aids properly tuned to address the different hearing loss of each ear cuts through some of this background noise, enabling you to hear more clearly. The brain retrains itself to filter out unnecessary noise while picking up the sounds of your dinner companion without having to turn your head so your hearing aid is pointing directly at the speaker. This not only improves your ability to listen in background noise, but you will no longer have to strain to hear.

Improved sound quality

Mono versus stereo sound. Which sounds better? Stereo, of course. And with two hearing aids properly adjusted to meet the differing hearing needs of each ear, you enjoy a better quality of sound. In simple terms, the world sounds better in stereo.

A soft sound may go undetected by one ear but picked is up by the other ear — the one closer to the source of the sound. Your ability to hear the soft sounds that you’ve always taken for granted is greatly improved when you go binaural, because both ears are amped to the proper level to hear even the soft whisper of a loved one. And that’s something that you just can’t put a price tag on.

Hearing balance

The natural state of binaural hearing is hearing with both ears in balance. An audiologist or hearing aid professional can adjust each hearing aid to fit your hearing needs, delivering hearing balance and a much improved listening experience.

The listening experience

Talk to your audiologist about options. The best course is the one that delivers the most satisfying listening experience — the listening experience that you’re used to. The one you’ve enjoyed all these years.

Hearing is a quality of life consideration. So, spend the extra few bucks to get improved localization, hear through sound that’s natural and organic. Get back your ability to hear soft sounds or sounds in higher frequency ranges, and skip the stiff neck syndrome that a single hearing aid creates as you turn your head throughout the day to hear. Go binaural and get back into life. Hear the way nature intended you to hear —with two ears. The cost, when weighed against the benefits, is insignificant.

You’ve got two ears. Might as well use them both to hear the world around you. After all, you don’t want to miss a single sound.

Hearing Aids

Why Do Hearing Aids Cost So Much?

When I talk with patients or family members who have hearing loss, I hear a lot of grousing about the cost of the hearing aids purchased. I mean, those hearing aids are so TINY, they look so fragile… and you’re telling me they cost HOW much?! Sound familiar?


Consumers seeking hearing healthcare help are often surprised at the cost of today’s sophisticated hearing technology. And that’s understandable. A high-quality digital hearing aid usually costs between $1000 and $3000, sometimes more when paired with sophisticated bluetooth technology or other assistive listening devices. And in Alabama, hearing devices are also subject to sales tax.

So, is this investment worth it? When assessing the value of hearing aids, it’s important to consider the many market variables inherent to pricing, including the following:

  • Hearing aids are medically regulated devices. As such, the manufacturers who produce these devices are subject to regulation by many organizations, including the FDA, FTC, and FCC. Like many other products in the U. S. marketplace, having to meet regulation specifications by governmental agencies seldom lowers costs, and almost assuredly raises them. As regulated devices, the cost of the research and development (AKA “R & D”) required to bring these products to market is significant, and it results in products being more pricey.


  • What does R & D cost, and why is it so important? Consider that the “Big Six” (or the top six hearing aid manufacturers in the U.S. today) spend roughly $500,000,000 annually on R & D, which is quite a lot. To be precise, that figure is 14% of their combined budgets. To put this into perspective, let’s do a percentage comparison. All of us would concede that Apple is certainly cranking out state-of-the-art technology, and undoubtedly this costs the company in terms of product research and development, but by comparison, Apple expends only 2% of its total budget for R & D.


  • Remember that to date, hearing aids are the only medical devices that involve coupling an electronic device to a sensory organ. This is not an easy task. Today’s instrumentation is incredibly sophisticated, with increased chip speed and capability. Today’s hearing devices are certainly not your grandmother’s hearing aid! Nevertheless, this type of electronic capability comes with a price: It’s expensive to bring these products to market, and market share remains limited.


  • Hearing aids still have a fairly low market penetration. Of the 37 million Americans who might benefit from amplification, only about 1 in 5 actually utilize the available hearing technology. We have not seen the same price reductions that are inherent to widely used electronic devices like TVs, computers, cellphones, etc. found in virtually every household. So, what’s the result? Without sufficient market penetration, the product pricing remains higher for everyone.


  • The price you are quoted for hearing aids is seldom unbundled — this means that the cost for services of the audiologist or hearing healthcare provider, warranties, repair coverage, etc. is usually bundled into the price. Consumers often forget that there are dispensing fees inherent to well-fit hearing devices. Are these fees worth it? To answer that question, we need only consider success rates (or lack thereof) for some of the unbundled personal sound amplification products or hearing aids such often sold on the internet, whose return-for-credit rates are upward of 60%!

Is the price tag for quality hearing devices worth it? Let’s consider the alternative…

Untreated hearing loss results in billions (that’s right… I said BILLIONS) of dollars in lost productivity in the U.S. workforce today. To be exact, unaddressed hearing loss results in 23 billion dollars of lost efficiency/productivity, which costs all of us in the long run. And of course, without today’s sophisticated hearing device capability, the loss in communications ability, lifestyle preservation, and a myriad of other quality of life issues (even for those not employed) costs our society a great deal indeed. There is also a significant body of research that suggests that if you have hearing loss, waiting to get hearing aids can actually compromise word recognition ability. As this data indicates,  delaying amplification is not without its own inherent cost.

So, despite the fact that the price for hearing aids may be steep at first glance, there are some very good reasons why costs may be higher than we’d like to see. If cost of recommended hearing technology is a concern for you or your family member, talk to your audiologist and explore possibilities for financial assistance or alternative technologies.