A couple of months ago I discovered that I needed hearing aids – all well documented here, in previous posts…
Anyway I was recently asked about digital hearing aids and my experiences after six weeks of sporting them. I can’t say that I’m an expert, but here’s what I know.
I realised that my hearing was poor a long time ago, well over 10 years ago, but I never really did anything about it. Last year I went to Specsavers to get my hearing checked. What made me go? Friends encouraged me to go, something that in retrospect was a lovely thing to do, and I very much appreciate it. Without that encouragement, I’d probably still be pottering around at 60 complaining about everyone muttering.
When I first had my hearing tested, the audiologist identified a hearing loss in the middle range and at the high frequencies. You can see the results in the graphs below.
I was advised that some hearing aids could cost between £500 and £2000 depending on the technology. The advice was that the hearing aids are basically the same size and shape, you don’t pay extra for smaller aids; instead you’re paying for the technology.
If you look at the above graphs against the graph below that I nicked from this webpage, you’ll see that the hearing loss is mild to moderate, with high frequencies hurtling towards the severe.
I would have paid for the hearing aids, probably making a judgement that around £1500 is a reasonable price to pay, but I went with my picture to my GP and asked if I could see someone in the NHS. Partly I was still expecting someone to say that there was a lot of ear wax and that they just needed washing out.
I saw the GP who took one look at the graph and referred me to the consultant at Ormskirk hospital. There wasn’t much discussion, only his observation that Specsavers were getting the contract for the NHS hearing tests.
At the end of November I went to see the hearing consultant. I had another set of tests that came out with the same results and then had a good talk to the consultant. The most fun being a tuning fork placed on my forehead (Weber’s test)- I could sense the note over on one side of the head which confirmed some nerve damage. Fascinating… and the biggest tuning fork I’ve ever seen.
He said that NHS hearing aids are decided on a case by case basis and that I should have some, in both ears. Eek! This echoed the advice from Specsavers, so I’m guessing that it was probably the right diagnosis.
About six weeks later, I had an audiology appointment and was issued with some Siemens hearing aids. The NHS covered the cost. In fact I expected to at least have to sign a receipt or something, but no – I had them fitted and was told to be on my way. It felt like quite a surreal experience.
The aids work as small graphic equalisers, programmed to amplify those frequencies that can’t be heard well. The audiologist uses software that takes the results of the hearing test and programs the aids via a short cable. The model that I was issued with was the Siemens Impact Pro L (the link is to the user manual, I couldn’t find a decent single page for them). They’re fine, small and light.
The other thing with these aids is that they can be paired up with something called a “minitek” controller. These can be then be paired up with multiple bluetooth devices and can also be used for volume control. This is something I will get soon. The aids need to be programmed to work with the device, but the hospital will be able to do it.
My experience to start with was common with other users – every small sound felt amplifed beyond comfort. When Jude and the children would get home from work and school, I would feel like the whole world was a cacophony of noise. This passed after a couple of weeks. Things are still loud, but that’s fine – that’s what they’re supposed to be, I think.
Mine are programmed with three modes which can be changed by pressing the button on the back of them. The first is a general “all-round” amplification and will just balance out all the surrounding noise. It turns out that there is a lot of surrounding noise, but you get used to it. The second mode is to amplify people directly in front of you, which seems to work brilliantly in restaurants, meetings, etc. The third is for induction loop systems. It’s weird. I’ve only used it once, when I went to church last week at Scouts parade. It sounds like the person with the microphone is stood right next to you (the priest in this case) and the sensation is unreal. My only disappointment was that he didn’t mutter, swear or pass comment on the congregation under his breath. That would have been awesome fun.
It’s taken a while to get used to them in the ears. They sit very deep in the ear channel. Early on they would irritate the skin. It felt like they were scratching and sore. I tried rubbing a little vaseline in the ear which seemed to relieve things. The other thing that I notice occasionally is the pressure of the plug in the ear canal. Most of the time, however, I don’t notice them any more.
I find that if they are irritating, I’ll move them around a little which scratches the itch. However, I might also get some ear wax in the tiny hole. When that happens the sound will suddenly drop out. Blowing or sucking the end of the hearing aid will usually clear the wax, but it turns out that most people find this gross. So it’s best to use the tiny cleaning wire that came with them. Best, but not convenient.
Now when they’re out or turned off it feels like I’ve just come out of the swimming pool. The pressure in the ears feels all wrong and the whole world sounds dulled. If the plugs aren’t in properly, then there is feedback and whistling, but only very quiet and (I think) only I can hear it. Daft things like giving someone a hug make them whistle.
One of them stopped working, just stopped one day. I went to the hospital the following day and they just programmed a new one and I was sent on my way. There’s something quite amazing about how the NHS works, even with something as straightforward as hearing aids; and I confess that I’m touched that my little hearing problem wasn’t too small or too insignificant for the vast resources of the NHS to help with.
PS. No running update today – long story, but basically things didn’t really work out for a run.