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The Ugly Truth About Hearing Aids

I was at work, minding my own business, when I realized my right ear felt blocked. I flicked my thumb over the microphone, expecting the static sound letting me know everything was okay. Only nothing happened. I took the hearing aid out and for the next five minutes checked the battery, looked for any cracks or wax buildup, etc, only to come to one conclusion:

My right hearing aid was not working properly.

My right ear is my worse ear, my left ear takes care of 70+ percent of sounds, so taking the hearing aid out didn’t do much to change my hearing. Only now all sound was coming through the two microphones in my left aid, and my right ear was getting next to no sound in.

My hearing aids are nine years old, which puts them in the elderly category. And if there is no easy fix I don’t know what I will do. Hearing aids cost, brace yourself, between two to three thousand dollars, on average. Each. And I wouldn’t need to just replace my right hearing aid, as my left hearing aid is getting frail, and I would want the stronger hearing aid in my stronger ear.

Yes, there are cheaper options, but a $30 over the counter type of device is not, I repeat, not going to help me. Those devices just amplify sound flat across the frequency range. Hearing loss is not that simple.

Many people think hearing aids are like glasses, put on a pair and you’ll be fine! I wear glasses—they bring my sight up to 20/20 vision. I wear hearing aids. They bring my hearing up, but nowhere near 20/20. Hearing aids amplify sound. They do not correct hearing.

Hearing loss is not a flat line. It’s either a curved line (curving downwards in higher frequency, often found in late onset loss) or an up and down line (like me, for those of us with genetic loss). A perfect example: my right ear doesn’t hear the “h” sound. A word like “that” has a gap in it for that ear. No amount of amplification will change the fact that I just can’t hear that sound anymore. (And yes, I am cringing at the unintentional pun and over use of a single word in the previous sentence.)

I need a device that will bring one frequency up higher than another. I need a hearing aid smart enough to quiet background noises. My aid will not know where I want to listen to, but it will do its best to filter the sounds.

That’s not a $30 device. That’s a $3,000 dollar device.

Now, hearing aids don’t let me hear what sounds are actually like. I was born with my hearing loss, so I’ll never how things are supposed to sound. I got my first set of hearing aids at the age of six, young enough that adapting to the new mechanical sounds was easy. This also means that an adult who needs hearing aids is in for a shock. The sounds they once knew will never more be the same.

Yet hearing aids are a wonderful tool. They help me and while I won’t consider surgery for my ears, I will consider replacing my dead hearing aid. Funding depending.

So, there you have it. The ugly truth about hearing aids. They cost an arm and a leg and do not provide natural sound. For an adult with late onset hearing loss I often recommend going in with an open mind and committing to giving the hearing aid a two week chance, at least. Only with time and listening does one learn what needs to be tweaked.

For example, with these aids that are currently bidding their fond adieu, I noticed a shrill sound from my favorite music (Bon Jovi) caused a piercing pain. I couldn’t figure out what, exactly, I was reacting to. The sound was high, and while Jon can hit a high note, he’s not hitting a soprano. So I listened again, and again, and again. Then explained as much as I could to my audiologist. She was able to tweak the hearing and I no longer cringed during my favorite songs.

I’ll go through this process again when I get my new hearing aids, tweaking the sound levels until they give me the most hearing without causing me pain. And yes, the stronger the amplification, the more chances of pain.

In recap: hearing aids are great! Only they cost a ton and don’t sound organic. So the next time someone like me says “What?” stop, rewind, and have some mercy on our poor ears.

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