I’m 28 years old and I wear hearing aids.
If you asked me five years ago, I never would’ve imagined that I’d be struggling to hear basic conversations before I hit 30.
My hearing loss isn’t due to a traumatic event, nor is it something I inherited as a child. It slowly became an issue in my mid 20s, and wasn’t something I paid much attention to until it began impacting my husband. He noticed how I’d complain about my ears ringing for days, sometimes weeks, after a sports game or concert. He became aware of how often I’d misunderstand what he said. He nagged me for months (maybe years?) to set up an appointment with an ENT. I finally gave in and requested a referral from my doctor for a hearing exam.
Dara’s fears were confirmed. I had undeniable hearing loss in both ears. My audiologist was surprised to discover that my hearing loss was only in the ranges of human speech – I couldn’t hear mid-frequencies. I had no trouble hearing high or low pitches and listened to music with no issues. He strongly recommended hearing aids, with a caveat that they may not be a silver-bullet solution to my hearing woes. Hearing aids are amplifiers – they turn up the volume, but that doesn’t help you understand muffled speech.
I was devastated. It’s a big blow to be told you need hearing aids when you’re so young. What if I lost my hearing altogether and couldn’t hear the sound of my husband’s voice? Or my (future) kids? How could I even function?
Once the initial emotions wore off, we started discussing hearing aid options. There are a number of hearing aids with bluetooth capability, but most of them require you to wear a big obvious streamer (plastic box) around your neck. The most inconspicuous HAs recommended by my audiologist were the Resound Linx2, which pair directly with your iPhone. With the Linx I could stream music and phone calls straight through my HAs… to the tune of nearly $6,000.
We were so, incredibly lucky to be covered under Dara’s health insurance. His plan covered 80% of the cost of hearing aids, which meant our out-of-pocket cost was only $1,000. (Still, not chump change!) We grit our teeth and wrote the check. Before I knew it, I was back in the audiologist’s chair, having my new hearing aids fitted and adjusted. (Hearing aids aren’t something you just buy off-the-shelf – an audiologist must program them and adjust them to best suit your hearing.)
There was a long adjustment period. For awhile, I wasn’t comfortable wearing the HAs for more than a few hours each day – after awhile, my ears would itch and feel sore. I was disoriented by the loud noise every time I’d tuck my hair behind my ears or brush my finger against the HAs – like the sound of someone blowing into a mic. After years of straining to hear, suddenly everything was TOO LOUD. The HAs had their perks, though: I loved being able to stream music throughout the work day and while going for a jog. And I quickly noticed how the awful ringing in my ears (tinnitus) began to fade whenever I wore my HAs.
I’ve now been wearing hearing aids for 18 months. I can get by without them, but they make a measurable difference in how much I can hear/understand from everyday conversations, particularly at work. A common misconception is that HAs cure hearing impairment. I wish I could have 20/20 hearing whenever I pop them in! Sadly, I would say they’re an improvement but do not fill the entire gap in my hearing. I still struggle to hear many things, especially people who mumble or speak softly. (I probably am “that person” whose voice is always a *little* too loud. Sorry, friends!)
My hearing is worsening, and I wonder every so often about what I’ll do when my HAs don’t cut it. Someday I may qualify for cochlear implants (electronic devices implanted in the inner ear to provide hearing for someone with severe hearing loss). And hopefully (fingers crossed!!!) medical research will lead to a cure or proven treatment for tinnitus, the awful ringing in the ears that torments many people. Much progress is also needed in health insurance; most American health insurance plans are pretty pathetic when it comes to coverage for hearing aids and audiologist office visits. (Dara and I have both changed jobs and health insurance plans since I purchased my HAs; if I bought them today under my current plan, only $200 would be covered by insurance.)
In the meantime, I’d love to connect with other young people who suffer from hearing loss and be an advocate for protecting your ears at all costs. Get a pack of ear plugs and keep them in your purse or car. (These nude-colored ear plugs are my go-to. Baby Banz are great for kids under 2.) Pop them in during sports games, concerts, fireworks, or anywhere else you need to raise your voice to talk. Hearing loss is irreversible. If you are worried you have some of the symptoms below, don’t suffer in silence; check in with an audiologist. (People with hearing loss wait an average of 7 years before getting help!!) And as always, feel free to drop me a line via email or Twitter or by commenting below if you want to chat about hearing loss – it’s scary and stressful and frustrating, but you’re not alone!