What are locked hearing aids? 

Locked hearing aids are essentially store-brand versions of name-brand hearing aids.

While that may not sound like a bad thing, as store brands are often the same thing at a less expensive price, in this situation, it’s a bit more complicated and deceptive. First and foremost, locked hearing aids are a marketing ploy by hearing aid stores to make it seem like you’re getting something special.

In reality, it ensures that you’re unable to compare prices and limits what you can be provided. Locked hearing aids also mean only the original provider or seller can reprogram the devices or change how they sound.

When is the last time you heard of someone going to a heart surgeon and the surgeon fitting a special pacemaker that only they can work on? Never, right?

How is this allowed and ethical in the hearing industry? 

The following information will ensure you are making the best-informed decision about your or your loved one’s hearing health. 

Locked Hearing Aid

Why are locked hearing aids a bad thing?

The only people that benefit from locked hearing aids are the hearing aid store owners and the manufacturers. There are two big reasons why locked hearing aids never benefit the patient:

Geographic issues: what if you move away from that hearing aid store, they close down, or making the 45-minute drive gets to be too much for you? In almost every instance, unless you live greater than 100 miles from the closest locked hearing aid store, the hearing aid manufacturer will not allow us to send the hearing aid in and “unlock” the computer chip. If your local store shuts down and the next closest one is 90 miles away, you’re out of luck. You either drive that 3 hour round trip for every appointment, or you’re stuck buying new hearing aids. 

In instances of fully proprietary brands, even if the closest store is hours away, you won’t be able to find local support; the companies won’t allow non-affiliated providers to access the software or supplies to support their patients.

No hearing aid brand can support 100% of patients: While hearing aids are only as good as they’re programmed to be, every hearing aid company has strengths and weaknesses. Some companies don’t have an offering for single-sided deafness or for severe to profound hearing losses, while others are better at making custom hearing aids. Also, since technology is always changing, there are always one or two companies that are slow to adopt new technology. At best, you will be limiting yourself; at worst, they could be fitting you with something that you end up dissatisfied with because that locked brand doesn’t have what you actually need. 

What brands of hearing aids are locked? 

While this list isn’t exhaustive (as any practice can choose to lock their hearing aids), the following brands are almost always locked: Beltone, Audibel, Miracle Ear, NuEar, Zounds, Audigy (AGX), older Avada aids, most Kirkland Signature (Costco) aids, Sam’s Club, and Walmart.  

Some of these brands are fully proprietary and cannot be modified at all from outside sellers (Sam’s Club, Walmart, and Zounds), while others are the exact same brands and models under different names.

For example: Beltone aids are Resound, Audibel and NuEar are Starkey, Miracle Ear are Signia (formerly known as Siemens), Avada aids are Oticon, and Audigy and Kirkland Signature can be various manufacturers.   

How can I avoid locked hearing aids? 

The best way to avoid locked hearing aids is to avoid hearing aid stores that advertise the above-mentioned brands.

The other way to avoid locked aids is to be upfront about your concerns about locked hearing aids and ask your hearing healthcare provider “are these locked?” If they say yes, weigh your options and consider looking elsewhere.  

What do I do if I have locked hearing aids? 

If you have locked hearing aids and you’re unhappy with their performance, I would strongly recommend scheduling a Connect 365 Functional Hearing Assessment in our office.

As part of the evaluation, we will compare your hearing ability with your current devices vs. hearing aids that are selected and programmed to your unique hearing needs. 

If you are unsure if your current hearing aids are locked, or you’d like to schedule a Connect 365 Functional Hearing Assessment, please call us at 256-319-4327 or submit a contact request, and one of our helpful team members will call you back shortly. 

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Dr. Sarah Kate Fisher

Dr. Sarah Kate Fisher was born and raised in Huntsville and received her bachelor’s from the University of Alabama and her doctorate from Auburn University.
    Basic Hearing Test

    A basic hearing test begins with an air conduction test. You will be seated in a soundproof booth and single-use, foam earphones will be inserted into your ear canals. The Audiologist will ask you to push a button or raise your hand when you barely hear a series of beeps (tones) presented at various frequencies (pitches) to obtain your air conduction thresholds.

    To determine whether your hearing loss is a conductive (mechanical) loss, sensorineural (permanent) loss or combination of the two, we perform a bone conduction test.  

    For this test, a head band is place on the bone behind one of the ears to obtain your bone conduction thresholds. This process provides a different form of sound transmission using vibration, which bypasses the eardrum and the middle ear bones and directly stimulates the auditory nerve. When you hear the beeps/tones, you will push a button or raise your hand.

    If bone conduction thresholds are better than air conduction thresholds (through the foam inserts), you have a conductive hearing loss. This suggests a problem with the mechanical structures (moving parts) of the ears.

    Conductive hearing loss is often a medically treatable condition for which we will provide you with a referral to an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) physician. However, if bone and air conduction thresholds match, it indicates a sensorineural hearing loss (permanent), and the treatment will likely involve hearing aids.

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