by Bob Martin
If you wear hearing aids, this week’s post is for you, your family, and anyone who helps you. It deals with this common problem: Your hearing with hearing aids was fine for several months, but now something has gone wrong and you don’t hear well anymore.
IS IT THE BATTERY?
The first thing you need to do is find out if the problem is with your hearing aids or if your hearing has changed. Start by checking the batteries in your hearing aids. In doing so, please pay careful attention to the next paragraph:
When people notice that one of their hearing aids isn’t working, they often make the mistake of taking a new battery from a pack, putting it in the hearing aid, and then trying the hearing aid. If the aid still doesn’t work, they think, “Maybe these batteries are bad.” So they try another battery, then another, until pretty soon they have tried four or five different batteries. Do not do this!
Here is a better approach to take if you, like most hearing aid wearers, wear a hearing aid in both ears. If one of your hearing aids doesn’t seem to be working as well as it used to and your other hearing aid is all right, then the battery in the second aid must be working. Take the battery out of the “good” hearing aid and put it in the “bad” aid. If the “bad” aid starts working the way it used to, you know there’s a problem with the battery.
After this test, put the “good battery” back into the “good hearing aid.” Do not go through battery after battery in an attempt to make the hearing aid work. You are just wasting a lot of batteries. You may want to do your own battery testing. You can get an inexpensive battery tester from your hearing professional or from a nearby hearing aid office.
CHECKING YOUR HEARING
If you think the problem is with your hearing and not your hearing aid, it is a good idea to start by testing your hearing at home.
There are a couple of ways that you can find out if you have begun hearing worse in one ear than in the other. This is important to know because usually when there is a rapid deterioration in your hearing, it is caused by something, for example wax clogging an ear canal or an ear infection, that occurs in only one ear.
Your telephone can help you determine if you are hearing worse in one ear than the other. Listen to the phone with one ear and then the other. Compare the quality of hearing in your right ear with that in your left ear and see if one is distinctly worse.
You can also compare your hearing from ear to ear by using the noise you make when you rub the palms of your hands together briskly. Rub your hands together next to your right ear, and listen to this sound; then do the same thing with your left ear, and see if the noise sounds louder in one ear than the other.
When you want to evaluate the hearing in one ear and not the other, use your finger to close one ear canal completely; then test the open ear.
It’s also a good idea to check your hearing periodically without your hearing aids in your ears. Comparing how well you hear unaided with how you hear aided tells you how much benefit your hearing aids are providing.
Your hearing care provider will also want to give you an annual hearing test to monitor the stability of your hearing.
IN A PINCH, LOANERS WILL HELP
Hearing aids are delicate devices so it’s not uncommon for one to quit working. People sometimes panic when this happens, since the transition from hearing well to not hearing in one ear can be disconcerting.
If you don’t have any old hearing aids left over that you can use in an emergency, a good temporary solution to the problem is to get a “loaner” aid from your provider that you can use while your own instrument is at the factory being repaired.
Many practices keep BTE (behind-the-ear) instruments in stock, which they can program for your hearing configuration and lend you until your own hearing aid comes back from the shop. A BTE is worn behind the ear and connected to the ear canal with a plastic earmold.
To use a spare BTE hearing aid, you’ll need a custom-made earmold. Earmolds cost about $60-75 apiece, depending on the type. It’s a good idea to prepare for a malfunctioning hearing aid by getting an extra set of earmolds that you can wear with loaners. You can keep the spare earmolds for many years in case you ever need a loaner.
This is one area where hearing aids have it all over eyeglasses! If you break your prescription eyeglasses, it is unlikely you can borrow “loaners” from an optometrist that will be of any help.
One last thought. People often fear the worst. Patients will tell me, “My hearing must be getting really bad. I cannot hear much anymore!” When I test these people, I often discover that the problem is not with their hearing. They simply need to have their hearing aids reprogrammed or replaced.
So, when you or someone in your family is having trouble hearing, don’t get discouraged. Go to your hearing professional and get a hearing test. Chances are good that your audiologist or hearing instrument specialist will be able to solve the problem.