I’m a hearing aid “newbie”, looking for first-time hearing aids, after my hearing has been gradually deteriorating over the last several years.
I have a long story about my experiences with Costco’s Hearing Centers and some other options I’m looking into. Hoping this might help anyone else who is new to this Hearing Aid search and exploring where to be evaluated.
After reading in these forums about the benefits of using Costco’s Hearing Aid Centers, I decided to start there to have my hearing tested and check out their options.
I have 2 Costco’s that are both within 10-15 miles from my home, so I set up an appt at one of these (Costco #1), and showed up for a hearing test and screening for hearing aids.
The Hearing Aid Dispenser that I met there seemed friendly and knowledgeable.
Their equipment and facility also seemed very high tech and very noise-shielded.
The dispenser started by looking in my ears with a scope/camera.
Unfortunately, he immediately told me that he was going to be unable to perform a hearing test on me, because of wax buildup that I would need to have cleaned/removed before I could be tested.
I was a bit surprised, because I’ve never had much of a problem with wax in my ears previously.
He showed me on the video monitor what he was looking at. I had a hard time seeing any wax… it looked like a very clear view through to my eardrum.
But he pointed out a very thin and dark ring around a portion of my ear canal, and said that this was wax that had probably built up over the course of many years.
He said that there was too much risk that when they put the probes into my ears (it looked like they used a foam pad that fills the ear canal to block outside sounds, with a center insert for a sound probe through the pad where the sound would be injected), that some wax could get dislodged and pushed further into my ear canal.
He showed me similar images in both of my ears… a very thin dark ring was around the edge of portions of my ear canal in both ears, even though there was nothing that looked like wax and there was a clear view to my eardrum in both ears.
When I asked who could perform such a cleaning, he gave me a card for a technician at a hearing facility several miles away.
After leaving disappointed, I then tried to call the facility that he referred me to, to find out what the cost would be and possibly make an appointment to have my ears cleaned.
The technician he referred me to wasn’t there, but I spoke to his “medical receptionist”. She seemed to not know what I was talking about in needing to have my ears cleaned. She kept asking about an insurance plan I might have, and told me that although they could schedule a cleaning, she had no idea how much it would cost, and I’d have to call back the next week to talk to their billing department. Apparently getting referrals for ear cleaning from Costco wasn’t a normal thing for this facility.
Home town “Hearing Center” / Audiologist office
I then found another “Hearing Center” in my home town, called them and made an appointment to have my ears cleaned. They told me they could do this for a $40 charge.
When I went into the local Hearing Center, an Audiologist first looked in my ears so they could be sure what needed to be done.
She told me that my ears were “about as clean” as anyone’s she’d seen before, and she would recommend against doing anything to clean them further. The risk of nicking the ear canal and possibly complicating things was greater than any need for cleaning there could possibly be.
She didn’t understand how anyone would possibly suggest they needed to be cleaned to have my hearing tested. She also said they would clean them if I signed a waiver acknowledging that they recommended against it.
So I decided NOT to have them do a cleaning. Instead, I agreed to have this Hearing Center perform their own complimentary hearing test and evaluation, as they are also in the business of selling, fitting, and supporting hearing aids. Of course from some initial research I knew that any hearing aids they would sell me would likely be very expensive.
So I had my hearing tested by the Audiologist at the local Hearing Center. She performed a thorough test, and gave me a quote for her recommendation for hearing aids for me, with a $6500 price tag for a pair of Oticon Alta 2’s. I received the audiogram test results from this complimentary test, and told her I would consider their quote, but wouldn’t be making an immediate decision.
I didn’t want to jump at this expensive an option, so even though I hadn’t had a cleaning done, I decided to try the Costco Hearing Center at the “other” nearby Costco store… I called them and set up an appointment there.
At the 2nd Costco, I didn’t mention my experience at the 1st Costco, thinking that if I told them what they had told me about needing my ears cleaned, they might be more likely to reject me for the same reason.
I was less impressed by the Costco Hearing Aid Center facility at the 2nd store… It didn’t look like they had the same “high tech” setup. It also didn’t seem to have the same sound shielding as the 1st facility I had visited. The Hearing Aid Dispenser that saw me at this 2nd store took a quick look in my ears, and said “Great! Your ears are very clean”. I asked if it looked good to go ahead and test my hearing, and was told “Yes, no problem”. I decided not to go through the story of the first Costco facility, and went forward with having a hearing test done there.
She put the inserts with the sound probes into my ears, checked that they were “snug”. She had a microphone that she spoke into through which I was supposed to hear her voice, as the inserts should be blocking most of the outside sound.
What I immediately noticed was that it didn’t seem like the inserts were blocking much outside sound at all. I could still here shuffling papers, and even before she turned on her microphone I had no problem hearing her voice. This only seemed mildly strange at the time.
Then, she turned on her mic and started talking to me, and asked if I could hear her clearly through the probes. But I told her it seemed I was only hearing her through the outside sound (fairly clearly), and not at all through the microphone and probes. I started to get more and more worried about whether going to this facility was a good decision, as she spent the next several minutes fooling with her controls and software, and trying to get it so I could hear her through the ear probes. Finally it did sound like she had it adjusted so that I was getting a faint sound through the probes, although I was still hearing outside sounds well also.
So she began the hearing test at this 2nd Costco facility. It seemed to be a very thorough procedure, with right ear tones, left ear tones, test of behind-the-ear hearing through “bone” conduction, word recognition, measurement of a “comfortable” volume range, etc. However, during the test, as I told her, I was still hearing sounds coming from outside the booth I was in. This included, during audiogram testing of my right ear, a loud rumbling as the air conditioning came on in their facility, and continued to rumble during much of my right ear testing.
When she showed me the results of the test, they were significantly different from the results I had received from the Audiologist at the Hearing Center in my hometown. They were worse at all frequencies from the Costco center. At high frequencies, they were probably only 5 dB different, which didn’t seem significant. But the low frequencies were 10-15dB worse in my left ear, and 25 dB worse in my right ear, than the results I had received from the Audiologist test.
I asked her if she thought everything was calibrated correctly, and she gave me an “of course” response, but it didn’t seem there was much thought behind this. It wasn’t clear she even knew what calibration means.
As you can imagine, I was then unsure what test results could be trusted, but especially suspicious of the Costco test results.
I’ve since gone on to get a 3rd hearing test performed at a “ConnectHearing” facility about 20 miles from my home. I decided to go there, to a) get a 3rd opinion on a hearing test, and b) take advantage of their “2 week trial”. I’m currently trying the Phonak Audeo V70’s that were recommended by the Dispenser at that facility. Although I like them so far, I have nothing yet to compare them to, and their price quote is also very expensive (they are quoting me a little over $5K for a pair). So I doubt I will be purchasing from there.
The hearing test that was done at the ConnectHearing facility agreed closely (+/- 5dB, generally), with the results from my original Audiologist-performed test at my hometown Hearing Center.
So from all of this, what I can say of my Costco experiences are:
a) They are extremely inconsistent from one Costco facility to another;
b) They won’t necessarily accurately test your hearing;
c) They may feed you a “line” about needing your ears cleaned (maybe he just wanted some free time that day instead of going through with my screening?)
After all of that, I still have a desire to try Costco’s hearing aids (probably a Rexton Trax 42), so I may go to a 3rd Costco facility (there is another about 25 miles from my home), and see if they will either accept the hearing test from a non-Costco facility or perform their own test, because I absolutely don’t trust the test that was performed at Costco #2.
Other alternatives I"m exploring
I’ve also contacted Choice Hearing Aid Providers… If I decide that I really like these Phonak Audeo V70s, I may purchase from them, because the price their will be about 60% of the quote I got from ConnectHearing. The downside of that is their nearest “local” audiologists that would do the fitting are 1 hour to 90 minutes from my home… so not exactly local.
So I’m still exploring… just wanted to share my experiences so far.