A trial of hearing aids

In my early forties, maybe 15 years ago, I went in for a hearing test and discovered that I had otosclerosis in both ears. In effect my stapes bones in the inner ear, which are supposed to vibrate freely, were stuck in place, and of course this interferes with hearing. No particular explanation for why this happened to me–it just happens in some people, or so my doctor tells me.

At the time my right ear showed mild to moderate loss, left ear was worse, which explained why I kept turning my head to one side when talking to people and why I always held the phone up to my right ear when I spoke on it.

They removed the left stapes and replaced it with a prosthetic device which does move as an actual one should. It helped, but didn’t (and wasn’t expected to) restore my hearing to normal levels. A few years later the right ear had deteriorated further so we did it in the right ear as well. So I am now short two bones.

Since then the hearing in both ears has deteriorated slowly. This is apparently expected as the prosthetics lose their bounce.

The doctor said at some point he’d probably need to repeat the procedure (oh joy) but wasn’t prepared to do that yet. He suggested I try hearing aids, both ears. “I know they’re costly,” he said, “but the audiologists I work with can get you a trial for free. Hearing aids might work, they might not,” he added, “but you’d be a good candidate, so consider it.”

So I considered it, and yesterday went and picked up two top-of-the-line hearing aids for a $400 deposit, refundable if I don’t lose them and return them in decent condition. I’ll have them for a week and a half. The goal in my case is not so much to amplify noise, or so I am told, but to clarify sound so I can distinguish phonemes a little more easily–some speech sounds are really hard for me to make out.

So far, in 28 hours or whatever: they’re weird! I’ve had several experiences of hearing something and not being able to identify it. One example: the air conditioner, which is currently on Energy Saver and so cycles in and out. I’m always aware when it goes on, and was aware this time around, only it sounded…different. Not so much louder, just…different. I can’t explain it, but it was disconcerting. Another example: traffic. I went to pick up the little guy at his day care center, which is near a busy road–I always hear the sound of the traffic on the playground, but this time it felt…different. I don’t have the words to explain how. It’s a bit disquieting.

Also, every time I touch my face, especially near the ears, I hear a distinctive crinkling sound. As though someone is scrunching paper. Also off-putting. And I keep wanting to scratch the itch in my eardrum, but that turns out to be a Very Bad Idea.

I’m not sure how it’s doing with other people’s voices yet–this is a big question. My wife’s voice is soft–she has some chronic medical conditions–and I say “What?” and “Scuse me?” and “Sorry, can you say that again?” a lot, and I don’t know that the incidences of these are any less. On the other hand, it’s early. I remember when I got progressive lenses it took a few days to understand how they were working and to see the world normally again. The first hours of the hearing aids aren’t real encouraging, though–I will try to stay optimistic.

One other thing. As a boy, I stuttered a bunch. Grew out of it gradually but still stammer noticeably under some circumstances, especially stress. That’s been happening much more than usual since I got the hearing aids. I noticed it first in the office consulting with the audiologist. “D-d-d-d…[long pause] do I have to flip the switch here?” I remember asking. But it’s been the case at home as well. I half wonder whether there’s something interrupting my feedback loop, as though my voice doesn’t sound like my own, and that’s throwing my speech off. Again, I guess we’ll see. It’s not debilitating or anything, but it is an annoyance.

And then there’s the question of whether I can afford them even if they work–they are not cheap, these things.

Oh well. I’d be interested in hearing from those who have hearing aids or who have tried hearing aids, whether because of issues with otosclerosis or something else. Do any of my experiences sound familiar? Did the issues go away quickly or linger for a spell–weeks, months? Did your speech patterns change? i’m also happy to answer any questions about my experiences if someone is thinking that these gizmos might work for them, of course…or anyone who is just curious, i’m not picky.

Recent thread on the subject.