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Q and A: Academy’s audiologist keeps ‘silent disease’ at bay with patient services

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. --

"My dog ate it." Did you ever use this excuse when you missed a homework assignment? I never did, but twice within a month I told my audiologist that my puppy, Peyton, chewed the hearing aid I use in my right ear. I received free, on-the-spot repairs. I was relieved.


After getting my hearing aid repaired, I chatted with Capt. Natasha Trozzolo. She’s the 10th Medical Group’s audiologist. We talked about replacing hearing aids, the cost and process of getting hearing aids, and perhaps most important, who qualifies for hearing aids.  


If you wear hearing aids, you might be as happy as I am to discover how relatively easy it is to get them repaired or replaced.

             

Uhl: What happens if patients damage or lose hearing aids?


Trozzolo: I can offer a one-time replacement if a hearing aid is damaged beyond repair, lost or stolen. Hearing aids come with a three-year warranty. I can repair certain kinds of damage and replace certain parts in my office. I can also perform cleaning and software checks to make sure the hearing aids are working properly. Damage resulting from moisture, battery drain or processor failure, is beyond what I can fix, so in those cases I have to send the hearing aids back to the manufacturer for repair. Getting them back can take one to two weeks.

 

Uhl: What about replacements not due to damage, loss, or theft?


Trozzolo: Patients are eligible for replacement hearing aids or new hearing aids every three years.

 

Uhl: What damage do you see most often?


Trozzolo: Moisture damage. Many people forget they’re wearing hearing aids when jumping into a pool or taking a shower. Moisture can also build up inside hearing aids simply from wearing them. That’s why I tell patients to put their hearing aids in dehumidifying jars, which I provide, when they’re not wearing them. Keeping moisture out will help extend the life of hearing aids. Keeping hearing aids covered and out of reach also protects them from children and pets.

 

Uhl: Who qualifies for hearing aids?


Trozzolo: No matter their age, patients qualify for hearing aids if they have any hearing loss that impacts their life. The hearing loss needs to be identified and quantified by a certified audiologist. At the Air Force Academy’s Audiology Clinic, I am only able to fit active-duty service members with hearing aids and refer dependents and children off-base. Military retirees are advised to follow up with the local Veteran’s Administration for a hearing aid evaluation.

 

Uhl: What kinds of hearing aids do you offer?


Trozzolo: There is no “one size fits all” hearing aid, so I do my best to work with my patients to find the hearing aid that will work best for them. All my patients have a six-month trial period to see how well their hearing aids work.

 

Uhl: How much do hearing aids cost?


Trozzolo: On average, hearing aids can cost $4,000 to $6,000 a pair. Those who don’t have to pay for their hearing aids include the active-duty patients I see in my office and retirees diagnosed with duty-related hearing loss and who are seen at the Veteran’s Administration. If retirees aren’t already in the VA system, however, it can take up to a year to receive hearing aids through the VA. That’s why I tell active-duty patients who have hearing loss and are planning to retire to start the VA registration process much sooner.

 

Uhl: What about patients who separate from the Air Force before they retire?


Trozzolo: If a medical evaluation determines patients have suffered a duty-related hearing loss, they can qualify for hearing aids through the VA.

 

Uhl: Is cost a factor when people choose not to get hearing aids?


Trozzolo: Yes. Neither Tricare nor most insurance companies cover hearing aids. Hearing aids are so expensive because hearing aid companies spend millions of dollars on research and development. Today’s hearing aids are much more technologically advanced than they used to be. Today’s big technological advances with hearing aids include better speech understanding in noise and wireless connection to cellphones, and the ability to stream phone calls and music directly from your phone to your hearing aids.

 

Uhl: Final words on the subject?


Trozzolo: Schedule a yearly hearing exam and stay in touch with your audiologist. Hearing loss is progressive. On average, patients wait approximately seven years before noticing hearing loss and scheduling their first hearing test. That’s why hearing loss is often called the “silent disease.” For primary care managers who have patients saying that it’s getting more difficult to hear, refer them to me.

 

(Editor’s note: Trozzolo received her bachelor’s degree in speech and hearing science from Indiana University in 2011 and her doctorate in audiology from the University of Louisville in 2015. She completed her fourth-year externship to complete her audiology degree at the Hearing Rehab Center in Colorado).