So on Twitter, I try every month to participate in #HearingLossHour. Like it implies, it’s an hour-long Twitter chat with some question prompts—mostly based in the UK but I’m up early with the baby anyways so I like to think I provide the American perspective.

Anyways, September’s topic was about single-sided hearing loss, and that was a broad term, to encompass the fact that some people only have one “good ear.” For me, I can’t hear anything in my right (well, maybe I once faintly heard a fighter jet flying over) and wear a BTE aid in my “good ear.”

Amazingly, during the course of the chat, I learned something new that a LOT of other people know about, which goes to show that even though I do my best to stay on top of technology, there’s usually gaps in your niche knowledge, which is why things like Twitter conversations are so great. I learned that CROS (which stands for Contralateral Routing Of Signals) is like a hearing aid supplement for your “bad side,” carrying the audio picked up in a BTE receiver and throwing it into your main workhorse aid that you wear. Here’s the image from Phonak’s brochure to show what I mean:


What does that mean for me? It means I could wear it and have a MUCH easier time when I’m the driver in a car, because the passenger is on my bad ear. It’s hard to glance over to try and hear/lipread for a second, and maintain safe focus on the road, especially on the Beltway in DC… It means I wouldn’t have to try and arrange myself so specifically at every table in a group setting.

Phonak (who sponsors the monthly chat) has a CROS aid option that you can look into here. Starkey also has the Muse CROS, which you can look into here.

So I JUST got a new hearing aid fully covered by insurance in February, so it’ll be a few years before I can take advantage again and try to get a CROS system, because it seems like Oticon doesn’t manufacture CROS aids. Why did my audiologist not suggest it? I have no idea and fully intend to ask next time I go in. I do think it’d be weird to wear an aid of sorts on my right side again, as I haven’t done that since early childhood.

Do you use a CROS and love it?

So, I wear a hearing aid in one ear and nothing in the other, but I was raised speaking despite a rather significant impairment. When I was 16, my mom made me go to a job fair, where I promptly got my first job working retail in a local museum gift shop with a high volume of tourists. I think at the time, I was so young that I didn’t really consider that… maybe I’d have some difficulties?!

But, lo and behold, I held that job for six years, working summers and weekends in high school, and when I was home from college. Later on when I was about 25/26 years old, I worked at Crate & Barrel for 6 months to make some extra holiday money. I got so good at quickly wrapping glassware in tissue paper that when I moved to Germany the movers just let me pack the kitchen!

So much of a conversation is about context. I was always ready for a customer to ask questions about pricing, color, size, etc. I think everyone does this to some degree mostly unconsciously—ever been thrown off by someone asking a question out of left field because your brain isn’t catching onto what they’re getting at? So, in person, I never struggled much, but I know some customers could tell I was lip-reading on occasion.

So what were my troubles? By FAR the biggest obstacle was the telephone. My first job, the phone was loud and clear. At Crate & Barrel, the phones I had to answer were pretty bad. It gave me a lot of anxiety, and the extremely loud store music didn’t help. There was enough staff that varied day-to-day that not all of them knew or remembered that I was hard of hearing, and I didn’t want to NOT answer the phone when I was the closest one. So many times, I had to get a co-worker to help take the call. I knew I wasn’t in the job for the long haul, so I didn’t push for better accommodation, but in hindsight, I should have. I will if I go back to work there again someday!

Getting customer emails to sign them up for marketing materials was tough sometimes. Most people have straightforward email addresses, but every once in a while it’d be something like “bdzcdt at…” and I’d really have to strain to catch the right letter sound. Also, because I can only hear in one ear, if someone started asking me something from behind me or on my bad side, I sometimes wouldn’t hear them. Once or twice a customer would start lecturing me about being rude, and I would (as politely as I could muster) shut them down on that by explaining my hearing loss. My stores never had walkie-talkie systems, but I know I’d struggle with that too.

On the whole though, retail was a really positive experience, and as someone with hearing loss that is naturally shy, it really forced to me to interact with a ton of different people, so it was a huge factor that shaped my life.

Has your hearing loss affected your job choices?

This is something I harp on a lot, but for good reason I think! When I was a kid, getting invited to a pool party was really exciting, but tempered by the knowledge that I wouldn’t be able to really interact like normal without my hearing aid. My best friends knew about it and had no problem making sure I could read their lips, but as I got older and things were more “friends of friends” the prospect of explaining it and still having a good time got a little daunting.

Now I have a baby, and I’m realizing that I REALLY want a waterproof aid. I want to be able to take him to the pool, teach him to swim, and also just be social in a pool setting with other adults. Right now, if I went to the neighborhood pool alone (or with baby), it’d be a little awkward if someone tried to start up a conversation and I didn’t have my aid in.

Also, it’d be great to shower at home while baby naps instead of waiting for my husband.

I was so happy to finally have the money set aside this spring to get a Siemens Aquaris as a secondary aid for this purpose, but sadly it was discontinued in September 2016. If you can get your hands on one and have your audiologist program it, my understanding is that Siemens will support the servicing for a few more years. I haven’t decided if I really want to hunt this down.

Why was this the ONLY waterproof aid though? Then I dove into the world of IP ratings.

IP stands for Ingress Protection, and it’s for all electrical appliances, not just hearing aids. For example, the new Apple Watch’s IP rating supports the fact that you can wear it while swimming. But for aids, the higher the number, the better the aid can withstand adverse conditions like dust and water.

My current aid is an Oticon Dynamo, and it’s rated IP-58, which is really great for when I’m sweaty, or it’s simply a humid Virginia summer (like right now). But obviously I wouldn’t take it in the shower or the pool and my audiologist said so. The Aquaris was rated IP-68 and presumably, I would be able to do that.

Interestingly, I learned that it’s only the second digit in the IP rating that matters for water resistance. So, my current aid, IP-58, the 5 refers to dust resistance, and the 8 refers to water resistance. So, wait, then it’s the same as the Aquaris?

According to the IEC which publishes the IP code, an 8 rating for water means it will not be damaged in water depth up to 1.5m for 30 minutes. Obviously, I don’t plan to test this with my one hearing aid that cost several thousand dollars. But 8 is a really high number! According to the IP number table, even a 3 means it would arguably withstand a 5-minute shower and still work fine. So, what does it really take for me to go swimming and still hear?

These numbers adhere to an electrical standard, but I have read conflicting reports on things being tested in “standby” mode rather than continuous use, and things also being tested in manufacturer’s settings. So there is some variability. For now, the research continues, but if you’re literate in this kind of thing, I’d love your input!

Some deaf/HoH folks out there change out their hearing aids pretty often, but for me, this was really my first time as an adult buying a new hearing aid. I’ve been wearing a Siemens Acuris P for the last decade, purchased by my mother (thank you Mom!) when I was 20 and DRAGGING MY HEELS on switching from my totally analog 90’s aid prior to that. It was a really tough adjustment. I cried. It was as if an optometrist gave you someone else’s glasses prescription and said “Here! Get used to it!”

Flash forward to now, I’m 30, and I trusted my audiologist when she recommended the high-end Oticon Dynamo for me, so that’s what I went with. The best part was, I’m paying nothing as my insurance now fully covers my aid replacement every 5 years. Still, I was nervous! But I didn’t cry.

The fitting/programming appointment was this morning, and when the aid got switched on, the doctoral student looked at me and said “How’s that?” My response was “Um, terrible…” much to her surprise. Turns out the aid defaults to a very digital mode which is big on background noise suppression, so it felt like I had an FM telecoil loop on–I had NO background noise and I felt like the tech and I were in a barrel talking to each other. A truck could have been bearing down on me and I would have been oblivious. I’m all about hearing every little thing, maybe more so than most, so I didn’t like that. Once that got turned off in favor of the more “analog” sound letting everything in, it was SO much better and sounded remarkably like what I was used to.

I can see why someone like my parents, who struggle to catch what someone says in a busy setting, might want that kind of digital technology doing the work of cutting out background stuff. For me, the aid is the difference between hearing nothing and everything, and I wanted to be able to hear ambient noise, especially with a baby on the way. It’s what I’m used to, and I wonder if I’m in the minority or not on that.

Day 1 is going really well, considering! I made a point to use my iPhone while I was still in the office to check on feedback noise, and to make sure the telecoil option was working well. Right after everything was set up, I called my husband and my mom, two voices I’m very familiar with, to make sure they sounded “right” to me. On the way into the audiologist, I played a song I know well, and I did the same thing on the way home as a way to compare. I recommend doing these things, as it helped me feel good about what I walked out with.

Because of the new aid, tubing, and mold, my ear’s a little “sore” in that the physical fit is a little different and will take a couple days before it feels natural. I will say, I can tell the aid is very comfortable and less bulky than my old one. As for the sounds, the dog’s barks are too loud, along with my being overly conscious of the keyboard clacking and a ticking clock. Sort of funny, but I do remember going through this the last time and cringing every time the cash register ka-chinged at work, so there’s bound to be some sort of eccentric adjustments as the brain has to re-wire itself a little. I have a follow-up appointment set for two weeks from now, but if all goes well, I won’t need to make any adjustments!

Do you have similar experiences when getting a new aid (or aids)?

Hoping everyone had a happy holidays and is ready for 2017 to arrive!

I thought I’d break my small holiday hiatus and chime in with a recent hearing aid malfunction–easy to look back on it, but really stressful in the moment. For me, the difference is being able to converse and hear relatively normally, or no distinguishable sound at all.

I just turned 30 this month, and for my birthday, my husband and I went out to dinner and to see “A Christmas Carol” at the famous Ford’s Theatre in DC. The day before, I had noticed my hearing aid did its ‘low battery’ beep a few times in a loud situation, and figured I had a weird battery, as I’d just changed it that morning. Changed it right before leaving for the evening, and while on Metro, had my sound cut out completely a few times without warning, a few seconds each time. Sometimes I had to open/close the battery door to get it back. Now THAT was weird, and it only got worse from there. I would hear half of what the waitress said, and mid-sentence, total loss of sound. Probably happened at least 100 times in a couple of hours. Not only was it strange in terms of hearing, but it also threw off my talking! My husband ended up having to pick up the end of my sentences to order my food.

Still had a great dinner, but I was really worried about my hearing aid! I figured I’d have to go to the audiologist, and who knows what they could do to fix it? I was on my second battery with issues, so it couldn’t be the batteries, right?

Wrong. It WAS the batteries. At Ford’s Theatre, I carried out a last-ditch resuscitation effort by ducking into the bathroom to closely inspect my aid and see if I could do ANYTHING. I had one extra spare battery (different brand) in my purse, and thought it was worth a shot to change it out yet again. Voila! It was immediately fixed. I got to enjoy the play after all!

The culprit was a bad pack of Energizer batteries, and my theory is, for some reason, they couldn’t make full contact on the inside, so that’s why my sound would bobble in and out. I’ll give them credit, after I pointed the situation out on Twitter, they responded pretty quickly. They asked me to call in, and I got a partial coupon/refund for an 8-pack, which I’ll probably use, but I’ll be a little wary to use the brand from now on without a dry run at home.

In the end, I’m glad it was just the batteries and not the aid itself, but it was one of those stressful occasions that reminded me just how dependent I am on all parts of the technology working correctly!

Have you had any recent hearing aid malfunctions?

It’s my hope that some readers of this blog might be looking for more information on everyday experiences that those with hearing aids may have–whether it’s for themselves or others. So while I can’t speak for everyone in the d/Deaf or hard of hearing community, I hope I can at least provide some insight from my point of view.

(Want to know more about me and my hearing impairment? Click here.)

Traveling is one of those things I don’t give a second thought to, but it does have SOME particularities when you’re hearing impaired.

The Airport

When I was younger, I had to remove my hearing aid and place it in that little basket (ew, germs) to walk through the metal detector at the airport. Today, I don’t have to do anything of the sort, and I’ve been through the body scanners in the U.S. and Europe tons of times. Not even a hesitation there on the part of the security workers, and I’ve dealt with some pretty strict (ahem, touchy) ones.

Airports are great for me, because there’s so much visual information–departure and arrival boards to tell you where your gate is and give any pertinent info. Intercom announcements have always been REALLY tough for me to understand, though. Nowadays I tend to travel with my husband and his super-ears, but I try to make sure I have the appropriate smartphone app for whatever airline I’m flying. For example, Delta will send me a notification about any gate information/changes in a really timely manner, which gives me that extra reassurance. If I’m flying by myself, I make sure to find my gate early on and stay nearby for eating/shopping.

img_2727Boarding at the gate can be tricky if I’m by myself. I’ve found that while most gates have visual screens, they’re not updated as quickly as the gate agents announce boarding zones. I’ve flown so much now that I can sort of “count” the order: handicapped/strollers/elderly, first/business class, priority, and then zones. You can always ask someone standing around, too!

Note: you can always let a gate agent know you’re deaf/hard of hearing. I know Delta will even let you put in a request for special assistance ahead of time–I haven’t ever used it because I’m worried they’ll send over a sign language interpreter or something (I don’t sign), but it’s a nice option.

After a flight, sometimes my ears need to pop and my already-bad hearing is even worse. Not much you can do when that happens, but most people are pretty understanding as it’s happened to them, too.

Trains

Experiences with taking a train and trying to listen for the right information can vary drastically. The first time I took a train, it was an unmanned Amtrak station in Fredericksburg, VA, with an extremely crackly intercom system. There was an unintelligible announcement, and the only two people on the platform with me suddenly ran to the other platform, clearly having heard of a change. Agh!

I’ve lived in the Washington, DC area for a combined few years now, and taking Metro with a hearing impairment hasn’t been terrible (there are some good visual aids even if the rest of the infrastructure is a mess), but I often can’t make out what the train driver says when there’s an unexpected delay. Stop announcements aren’t automated, so it’s usually something  like “Archivesdoorsopenleftside.”

img_0646In Europe, trains are definitely more efficient and easy for me to use–I think improved visual aids are partially because of people that speak so many different languages traveling around the continent. I lived in Germany for 3 years, and the local and long-distance trains were a breeze, with a clear-voiced automated loudspeaker and visual update on the stops. If I missed something, it was usually a language barrier. I will tell you, though, Italian trains are a whole other beast sometimes, and you might need a bottle of wine to celebrate a successful journey after a day on those trains.

Buses

I can’t say there’s anything particular about taking a bus with my hearing loss, but when a local bus doesn’t have the visual stop announcement, I do get a little anxious. But I imagine, most people feel that way on a bus they haven’t taken before, right? I often research the bus route/stops in advance, but I can’t tell you if that’s just my obsessive planning or if it stems from my hearing impairment.

Driving

Do I even include driving? I’m not sure it really counts in this context, but just in case you’re wondering, driving is really not impacted all that much by hearing loss. Deaf people can absolutely drive their own vehicles! In fact, I’ve found that because I rely more on visual cues, I’m very alert to my surroundings. Usually, I’m the first car to pull over for an emergency vehicle because I saw the lights so early. When I hear a siren but can’t see it, though, I typically can’t place what direction it’s coming from since I only have some hearing in the one ear. That causes a little stress, but I’ve found that this sometimes happens to people who can hear perfectly.

Because I wear my hearing aid in my left ear, and I can’t hear in my right, and I generally default to lip-reading, it does make it tough for me to carry on a conversation while driving sometimes, especially if my passenger is soft-spoken or someone whose voice I’m not used to. I had an audiologist once tell me I could wear something in my right ear that would then transmit to my left-side hearing aid, but I’ve never heard of anything like that since. If you have, let me know!

What else would you consider to be sort of a unique consideration in traveling with a hearing aid?

I’d be curious to know how often those that wear a hearing aid upgrade to new ones. I tend to dig my heels in at the prospect, because I don’t like the change. If I’m going to be real frank, I bought my current aid in 2007/2008 and it was my first digital aid. I was still analog into the 2000s, people.

What am I getting?

Well, it’s 2016, so it’s time again. I’ve had a Siemens Acuris P BTE aid (and a backup unit) for at least 8 years, but I go to a different audiology practice now that are experts in different brands. As my new audiologist explained it, there’s about 6 or so big manufacturers. This time around, I’m going with the Oticon Dynamo, getting their top-tier BTE aid. As far as hearing aids go, it looks pretty sleek.

Oticon Dynamo Hearing Aid in BeigeWhy do I hate getting a new aid? Well, for one, it’s never going to sound exactly like your old one as soon as they get you set up. There are so many subtle variations to the programming of frequencies. I’m hoping that going from one digital aid to another, it won’t be as drastic of a change. When I switched to my current one from an ancient analog aid, it was ROUGH. I’ve always been sensitive to what hearing I have being compromised, but I cried pretty hard even with my mom there (I was about 21 years old?). My audiologist said “make a list of everything wrong, and come back in two weeks”. That list was a mile long at first–people’s voices were too soft, the cash register I worked on was ear-splitting, and phone conversations gave me a headache. But, then, my brain essentially re-wired and re-learned how to hear, and all was adjusted by that two-week followup. Incredible.

The Cost

Even though I don’t sign and exist totally within the speaking community, my hearing loss is still pretty significant–essentially deaf in the right ear (no aid), moderate-to-profound in the left (aid). I need all I can get. That means splurging on the top of the line aid. One HUGE development in recent years, though, is that hearing loss is starting to be insured! My insurance, for the first time ever, will pay $1500 towards my new aid. Of course, I still have to pony up about $2000, but hey, it’s something.

We moved back home to the U.S. from three years stationed overseas in Germany this year, bought a house, ended up having to buy a car, and we’re going into the holidays, so money is tight, to say the least. I have a baby coming in spring, though, so I want to get this done before all my free time is gone. Soon, I’ll go in to get the ear mold done and the order placed, and I’m guessing some time early next year, I’ll make the switch! I won’t lie, I’m nervous about it.

Buying a secondary aid?

One thing my husband and I have talked about pretty seriously is getting ANOTHER aid, a waterproof one (the Siemens Aquaris). I joke about it, but honestly, I’m still mad I couldn’t play Marco Polo in the pool as a kid. My husband says it’s not even that fun but I still want to do it. I’d love to go to the pool and still be able to hear, or take a shower when baby’s here and listen for crying when my hair’s wet. I don’t think it’s in the cards this year, as it’s at least $2200 for the mid-level aid, $3k for the highest sound quality. That’s a lot of cash for a secondary, occasional aid.

What are your thoughts on the process of getting a new aid?