Friday, 8 February 2008

Can you hear me now?

All my life I've heard a ringing in my ears. When I was a little kid, I usually only noticed it when the room was silent. It was at school that I first became aware of it. The first time I read the phrase, 'The silence rang in his ears,' I took it literally. Silence always rang in my ears. It wasn't until I mentioned it to a friend that I found out that silence does not ring. I couldn't imagine a complete absence of sound. I have never in my life heard it. I asked my dad about it, and he told me he'd always had a ringing in his ears as well.

From early childhood through adulthood, I suffered from many ear infections, complete with rupture of ear drums. The ringing in my ears stopped being the sound of silence and became the constant background noise of my life. In my early 30s, I began to have chronic sinus infections accompanied by pain in the ears that I would take big doses of Sudafed to try to ease. I also have a sensitivity to the barometric pressure and have suffered from sudden and intense headaches when a storm front moves in. Thankfully this happens less here in the UK, where the weather is less volatile.

I was told years ago by a doctor (and all my later doctors have confirmed) that I have extremely narrow ear canals, so I have also battled all my life with compacted ear wax. It may sound silly, but ear wax can really plague you. It stops up the ears, can lead to infections, interferes with your hearing and causes a dreadful feeling of blockage and congestion. I've syringed my own ears in the past using a turkey baster! When you're desperate you'll try anything.

So anyway, as the years passed, I didn't notice so much that my actual hearing was affected, because I taught school and had control (more or less) over the level of noise in my environment. But when I went to work in a library dealing with the public, it became clear that I was having trouble hearing speech, and it wasn't just down to the accents! I also finally realised how loud we keep our television (on my account--DH's hearing is fine) when we went to visit a friend, and we asked him to turn the TV up loud enough so that I could hear it, but he said he didn't play his TV that loud and turned it back down. As a result, I could not hear the program and so I lost interest. At home I tend to have the subtitles on when we watch TV or DVDs, and DH lets me hold the remote control so that I have complete control over pumping up the volume very loud during quiet speech and then turning it way down during loud noises. (I'm sure the sound folks who spent so much time mixing those movies would not be pleased!)

In 2006, I had my hearing assessed by an audiologist and was told that I was at the bottom of the normal range of hearing and had high frequency hearing loss. He advised that I may need a hearing aid in about 10 years.

Since that time, I feel that my life has become more profoundly affected by my hearing loss. I simply cannot understand conversations going on around me. I hear voices but not distinct words. I cannot hear what people are saying to me when they speak to me from a distance. I have to go over to them. If someone tries to say something to me conspiratorially in a low tone, forget it. I either smile and pretend I heard, or have to ask them to repeat it. I miss jokes and smile non-committally. I miss things in staff meetings and have to ask someone later what was said. Over the last 18 months or so, I have suffered from depression and anxiety about my hearing. On more than one occasion when I've had to ask my husband to repeat something more than once, I have burst into tears of frustration. In this time, my tinnitus (ringing in the ears) has grown worse. It is now more distinct and distracting than ever.

So what am I doing about this? I've been trying to work with the NHS toward a solution. There is no cure for nerve deafness; the only meaningful treatment is hearing devices. I've been waiting over three months to see an audiologist, and at last my appointment is next Wednesday. DH is going to go with me so that he can be there to help me talk to the audiologist and take in all the information that is given, and help me remember to ask questions about my treatment. I have an appointment with a nurse next Monday to get my ears syringed so that they will be nice and clean for the hearing assessment. (I saw the GP yesterday, and she said my left ear was nearly completely blocked with wax. *sigh*)

I have been researching the types of hearing devices for my type of hearing loss for over a year. The NHS does free hearing aids, but they are not very aesthetically pleasing and there is a waiting list of 1-2 YEARS for them. I cannot live like this for another two years. So I am going to get the NHS's prescription and go private.

For high frequency hearing loss, the top of the line technology is the open-fit digital hearing aid. There are many models, but so far I am attracted to the Oticon Delta. I have found three hearing aid dispensers in the nearby city of Coventry who sell the Oticon Delta, so as soon as I get my hearing assessed by the NHS, I intend to make an appointment and go see if they think this line is the right line for me. Have a look at this:

And here's what it looks like when you're wearing it:

All you can see is that teeny tiny little tube. It's virtually invisible and it has up-to-the-minute digital technology. It has been designed for mild to moderate high frequency hearing loss, which is what I've got. The open fitting means that sounds are more natural, the occluded feeling of in-the-ear hearing aids is avoided, as is the problem with chewing and noises inside your head. (People who wear in-the-ear devices can tell you about the cacaphony of eating!) When the canal is left open, some of those soundwaves can escape, allowing for a more natural sound. In the past, open canals led to feedback problems, but the digital technology overcomes that problem. Plus, it's teeny tiny! And it comes in loads of colours! And it's teeny tiny!

More to follow as this journey continues...

May all beings be at ease.


Morandia said...

wow! Definitely keep me posted. I blame it on age. I now have "progressive lenses" which basically means tri-focals. I blame it on turning 40.

Nice to see how small the hearing devices are. WOW!

Mark said...

Carla, I never knew your hearing was so bad. I think I can understand a little bit how frustrating and difficult it must be as my mum is completely deaf in one ear and often has difficulty following conversations (particularly if there is a lot of background noise) and hearing the TV. It must be awful not being able to hear properly what other people are saying and easy to feel lost in social situations. I think also people who can hear are probably not that considerate of those who can't or don't hear as well. After all deafness must be one of the few disabilities that is not immediately obvious from looking at someone. I do wish you well with your appointment next week and fingers crossed you get some positive news and help. Let me know how it goes.