From Audiologist to Patient
My teenage son and daughter would make fun of me because I am so sensitive to loud sounds. I’d ask them to turn the radio down in the car and PLEASE stop the teenage shrieking. The loud sounds pained my ears and left me agitated.
This sensitivity had been going on for quite some time; years in fact. I have to plug my ears at a movie theater and often when others are speaking to me. This can be offensive when your loved ones are talking to you and you have your fingers in your ears. The sensitivity seemed to be worsening. More recently, I noticed I was mixing up speech in conversation. I was also cupping my ears to hear at meetings and in competing noise situations. It dawned on me that perhaps I should have my hearing tested.
As an Audiologist, I have been working in the hearing industry for 26 years, specializing in hearing aids, tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and hyperacusis (sensitivity to loud sounds). I am fully aware that a sensory hearing loss, caused by the death of hearing cells in the hearing organ called the cochlea, leads to hearing loss, ringing in the ears and can also lead to sensitivity to loud sounds.
There is a positive family history of hearing loss in my family. My aunt is profoundly hearing impaired as the result of hereditary hearing loss. My dad has also worn hearing aids for a number of years, in large part due to a history of noise exposure. It had been two years since I last had my hearing tested and the results of the previous test showed hearing thresholds in the normal range. Hearing doesn’t usually change significantly in a two year period; but it can. One of the Audiologists at my hearing clinic "Argus Audiology" tested my hearing and the results revealed a mild cookie-bite hearing loss (the pattern of the hearing loss looks like someone took a bite out of the audiogram). Cookie-bite hearing losses are strongly correlated with hereditary hearing loss.
I shouldn’t have been surprised I have a hearing loss. But, I was! I have years of experience diagnosing and treating hearing loss…in others! I understand hearing loss mostly happens gradually and that the hearing impaired person often doesn’t even realize they have a hearing loss. It's their family and friends who are typically the first to notice their loved one is having difficulties hearing.
For the person with hearing loss, the way we hear with a hearing loss is the only way we know how to hear. We don’t know what we’re missing, because we don’t hear it. If people sound like they are mumbling, then to the hearing impaired person, that person IS mumbling. There are a lot of sounds I do hear with my mild hearing loss. I am able to hear moderate and loud sounds, especially in a quiet environment. Hearing loss can be deceptive, as I hear some sounds while having difficulty with others, especially soft sounds. At the end of the day though, I can't deny I must ask others to repeat themselves more often and I have great difficulty understanding speech when there is background noise.
I was so surprised by the results I asked my Audiologist to retest me. The results were the same. I was learning firsthand what many of my patients go through; denial before acceptance. It was time to face the truth.
I ordered hearing aids and was fit the next day. It was a bit of an adjustment getting used to hearing aids which involved domes in my ears. I found the domes to be a little itchy at the beginning. I played with dome sizes and speaker lengths on my hearing aids to get them just right. I also chose a “Calm” personality identity on the hearing aids and "increased noise management" in light of my sensitivity to loud sounds. I created a number of programs that will be a benefit when I am in competing noise situations, on the phone or listening to music.
After 2 weeks experience, I am thrilled with my hearing aids. I love that I can adjust them through an app on my cellphone or on the hearing aids themselves. I notice a huge difference when I take my hearing aids out. I notice myself saying “what?” when the aids are not in my ears. I love that my cellphone streams wirelessly through my hearing aids. This way I can listen to podcasts or music, without my large headphones, while walking the dogs. I can listen to movies on my Ipad, without bothering those around me. I can also receive cellphone calls through the hearing aids, offering a clarity advantage as I hear the calls in both of my ears.
One hearing aid battery lasted 7 days and the other lasted 8 days. I’ve decided I will change both batteries at the same time in the future. I’ve learned this from patients who would change both batteries every Sunday before church, or an event, to ensure the batteries didn’t go dead while they were listening to something important to them. I also have to remember to bring batteries with me and to ensure my battery doors are open when I am not wearing the hearing aids, as this is the only way to turn my hearing aids off.
I am grateful for this experience, as it helps me to empathize with my patients and their experience with hearing loss. I’m not so different. I first experienced disbelief, having my Audiologist retest me. Lol. My hearing aids required reprogramming and adjustments before they were just right. I am grateful to know there was a reason for my sensitivity to loud sounds that could be managed through hearing aids. I’m grateful I caught my hearing loss early so that the auditory center in the brain will not be deprived. Hearing loss has been positively correlated with dementia. Use it or lose it as the saying goes. Hearing loss can also extend to emotional and social withdrawal, isolation and depression, relationship difficulties and lowered self-esteem. What makes us human is our ability to communicate. We're not meant to live in an ever closing bubble.
I would certainly recommend a hearing test for anyone noticing difficulty hearing and/or tolerating loud sounds. Tinnitus is another symptom of hearing loss. A baseline audiogram is always a good idea to assess your hearing health.
Dr. Heidi Eaton, Au.D., Audiologist is the owner of Argus Audiology in NB, Canada with 26 years experience in the hearing industry.