By Dr. Michael M. Warren

I was reading the advertisements in my local paper the other day. I will let you guess which paper. I came across an ad for hearing aids. This was for a tiny device placed well into the ear and cannot be seen by anyone. It is quite expensive, but I am pretty sure that most of the cost goes into the development and production of a device of such a small size.

On one hand it is quite amazing that such an improvement exists in hearing aids and other health care devices can be so miniaturized as to be impossible to see or for anyone else to know of their presence. On the other hand, it made me wonder why a demand for such a device even exists.

Don’t get me wrong, I strongly believe that we, as intelligent human beings, should utilize every possible method of improving our health and lifestyles. If, after proper medical investigation, it is determined we can benefit from a hearing aid, then by all means it should be made available to us and we should use it.

Now, some devices have to be small to be effective. What comes to mind, for example, is the newly developed TV camera so small it can be swallowed and used to inspect the inside of our stomach and intestines without having to resort to those large tubes that go you know where.

But other items don’t need to be that small to be effective. And, in fact, making devices so small often reduces the quality and value of the device while raising the price simultaneously. This brings up the reason some of the health care industry research and development of these tiny devices is even an issue. To me, it sounds a little like vanity.

Why should we feel embarrassed to let people know we need a hearing device? For that matter what is wrong with being bald instead of using hair replacement? I have noticed many men who are partially bald are taking the “bull by the horns”, so to speak and shaving their heads completely. I applaud them. I have taken the easiest approach to the hair problem by just keeping what I have and avoiding either extreme.

There are a huge number of devices and treatments to please our vanity. Of course, I am not referring to the medical uses of these products. There are certainly medical uses for many of them. But many of these products would never have been developed if there was only a medical need.

I suspect that by now I have alienated most of you by talking about things that should not be spoken about in public. Most people don’t go around announcing they have a hearing aid or whatever. But, just think about it. You only have to please two people (you and the person you see in the mirror). Ok, perhaps your spouse or significant other as well. Even if you can afford the procedures or devices and are not worried about complications from employing them, why give all your family and friends the ability to gossip about your vanity issues?

Dr. Michael M. Warren is Ashbel Smith professor of surgery at University of Texas Medical Branch Division of Urology. Write him at