An Amplified Stethoscope Makes Hearing 20X Better
As a medical professional, it can be hard to do your job with a standard stethoscope if you have some level of hearing loss.
Here’s the good news…
An amplified stethoscope makes it possible to do your job even if you’re hard of hearing.
Medical professionals, including nurses and physicians, rely on stethoscopes to analyze bowel, lung, and heart sounds for diagnostics.
This requires not only clinical skill but optimal listening conditions.
If you have hearing loss, using a traditional stethoscope comes with challenges.
Using a stethoscope when you have hearing loss — with or without a hearing aid — can be problematic and make it impossible to hear a patient’s breath and heart.
Top Amplified Stethoscopes
Let’s discuss this great tool to ensure you can learn more about it. It’ll solve your problems.
Here’s what you should know about this specialized type of stethoscope.
What is an Amplified Stethoscope?
Acoustic stethoscopes, which have been used for more than a century, have one major drawback.
They usually emit very low sound, which can be very hard to pick up if you’re hard of hearing.
Amplified stethoscopes operate in the same way but they convert those acoustic sound waves into electronic sound waves.
Along with producing greater volume, these electronic stethoscopes also come with neat features.
Like improved audio clarity, noise reduction, and the ability to use headphones so you can use your stethoscope with a hearing device.
There are several types of electronic stethoscopes, as with acoustic scopes.
For example, Doppler stethoscopes are used to detect sound waves coming from organs while fetal stethoscopes are made to detect sound waves from a fetal heart.
Electronic vs Acoustic Stethoscopes
There are two broad types of stethoscopes available today. Standard acoustic and electronic stethoscopes.
Most people are familiar with acoustic or standard stethoscopes.
These transmit sound from a chest piece through an air-filled tube to your ears.
The chestpiece has a diaphragm (the plastic disc) or a bell (hollow cup) which are placed against the body.
If the diaphragm is used, sounds create vibrations, which cause acoustic waves to travel up the tubes and into your ears.
If the bell is used, the vibrations of the patient’s skin make waves that travel to your ears.
The bell transmits low frequency waves while the diaphragm can transmit higher frequencies.
The main problem with regular acoustic stethoscopes is they produce a low sound level.
You’ve probably already noticed this.
While some improvements have been made in the design, this type of stethoscope isn’t really ideal if you’re hard of hearing.
Electronic stethoscopes, on the other hand, electronically amplify sound to make it easier to hear.
Also called stethophones, this style converts the acoustic waves into electrical signals that are amplified and processed.
With acoustic stethoscopes, the basic physics remain the same regardless of brand.
When it comes to electronic stethoscopes, the transducer and the quality can vary a great deal.
The most advanced electronic styles can work as a recording device, reduce noise, and enhance signals.
They can even offer audio and visual output, which is really helpful if you’re hearing impaired.
Electronic stethophones work just like their acoustic counterparts except they have a battery-operated device that amplifies sounds so they can be heard more easily.
All amplified stethoscopes are electronic to compensate for hearing loss.
Stethoscope Use with Hearing Instruments
The use of a hearing aid or a cochlear implant can make it difficult if not impossible to use an acoustic or electronic stethoscope.
There are two main options to consider: stethomate tips or headphones.
If your ear canal is occupied by a hearing instrument, your first option is buying your preferred stethoscope than buying stethomate tips. They are adaptors that you can attach to the earpiece of your stethoscope.
These adaptors vary in rigidity and size so you can find one that fits you and replaces your stethoscope’s eartips.
When you use these adaptors, the wide portion comes in contact with the outer surface of your hearing instrument.
There are downsides to using stethomate tips.
- To begin with, amplified stethoscopes have spring-loaded earpieces which are designed to help the earpiece fit snugly in your ear canal.
- Because your custom hearing aid or cochlear implant is also designed to fit snuggly in your ear, the pressure from the spring-loaded earpiece can create painful pressure.
- Even worse, the stethomate tip needs to fit over the microphone of your hearing device.
- If the microphone is close to the outer edge of the faceplate, the stethomate tip will prevent your hearing aid from picking up sound from the stethoscope… hardly a worthwhile solution!
In short, stethomate tips are really just a temporary and unpredictable solution to using a stethoscope with a hearing device and there are very real limitations.
A better solution is an electronic stethoscope designed to be used with a custom hearing device.
Several manufacturers offer headphones that interact with the stethoscope to avoid uncomfortable earpieces that won’t fit.
There are two main types of headphones:
- convertible headphones
- traditional headphones
Traditional headphones work with almost all types of custom hearing aids and cochlear implants.
If you get too much feedback with these styles, you may want to look for oversized stethoscope headphones instead.
Just keep in mind that hearing aids aren’t great at reproducing certain frequencies and bass.
This means you won’t get the full benefit of the output of many electronic stethoscopes because the sound needs to pass through the hearing aid first.
Options to Consider
As you compare the many amplified stethoscopes available today by brands like ADC, Cardionics, Littmann, Thinklabs, and E-Scope, it can help to compare the following important factors.
Budget may be a big concern.
Amplified stethophones are always more expensive than acoustic stethoscopes and even entry-level electronic styles will cost as much as a top-of-the-line acoustic version.
If cost is a concern, you can find decent electronic stethoscopes for about $150, although the price can be as high as $350 or more.
If you’re willing to spend about $200, you will get a good mix of affordability and quality.
Amplification with electronic stethoscopes is measured in comparison to what you would hear from a standard quality acoustic stethoscope.
The low-end amplified stethoscopes offer around 16x amplification. Depending on your hearing loss and needs, you can get amplification at up to 50x.
Some stethoscopes allow you to turn sound amplification on and off. With some, you can adjust the amplification and volume separately although with some, turning up the amplification also turns up the volume.
You may find it easier if these functions are combined to reduce variables.
Ambient Noise Reduction
Some electronic stethoscopes offer noise reduction capability.
This can be especially helpful if you have hearing loss because it filters out ambient noise in the office, much like noise-cancelling headphones.
Noise reduction technology allows you to more easily detect abnormal breathing sounds and murmurs, even if you work in a noisy environment.
While it may not seem like a very big issue to consider, remember that electronic stethoscopes won’t work if the batteries die.
Most use batteries. Whether it’s AAA, AA, lithium, or rechargeable batteries.
Some stethoscopes give you a visual indicator of the power level but some have an audio signal that lets you know when the power is getting low.
You know the old saying… you get what you pay for.
This is true with stethoscopes as it is with anything. It’s important to read reviews to learn more about the scope’s long-term durability before you make your purchase.
For example, electronic stethoscopes with tubes that bend easily are more likely to break down over time, especially if the tubing has wires running through it.
You’re going to be carrying your stethoscope with you practically everywhere you go.
If weight is an important consideration to you, keep in mind stethoscopes can be anywhere from 118 grams to to more than a pound in the case of the R.A. Bock cardiology dual head stethoscope.
Stethoscope manufacturers have become very ingenious in terms of the technology now available with electronic stethoscopes.
With some brands, you will find features that improve not only your ability to detect sound but also record and share it.
You may appreciate the ability to record and transmit digital output from your stethoscope or take advantage of visualization software.
The Bottom Line
Are you sure you heard the nuances in a patient’s lung echoes over the noises of kids yelling in the waiting room and adults chatting?
Buying the right stethoscope is a crucial part of providing the best care you can as a medical professional.
Your stethoscope is like an extension of your body.
Electronic stethoscopes are quickly becoming the preferred technology over standard acoustic scopes, even for practitioners with excellent hearing.
For the hearing impaired, there’s no comparison between the two.
Amplified stethoscopes offer more than just amplified sound. They produce sound waves that are clearer, louder, and far more audible.
With an electronic stethoscope, you can overcome your hearing impairment and give more reliable and accurate diagnoses to your patients.
Never again will you doubt your own observations because you’re afraid you misheard what came from your stethoscope.
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