The Sniff (And Other Curses of Better Hearing)

I don’t know about this “hearing better” thing. Do I really want to hear a nose whistling and stomach gurgling…and I’m talking about my own! The same sounds from someone else are a bit, uh, distasteful and shocking to a person with hearing loss with powerful new technology who has never heard them before. 

Taking the next step in hearing improvement was a big one, but it seemed like a good idea, a no-brainer.  “Sure, I’ll get a cochlear implant! And a new power aid in the other ear? Absolutely, I’ll take one of them, too!”

When both were up and running—the cochlear implant (CI) on the right side and the left-side LiNX2 power aid—the sound landscape of my life changed.  Not only did it become much louder, but there were also a lot of audible surprises. Some of them beautiful, others less so.

My Hearing Husband sniffs. Not glue or drugs…he just sniffs. He’s always done this, apparently, and it’s probably allergies or something. But with my new and improved audibility, it’s almost all I seem to hear. The Sniff follows me through the house.

Less invasive but still surprising is the sound of spinach leaves that rub together, shmoom, shmoom, when I’m making a salad. And who knew that a car still makes a sound when it’s turned off?  I couldn’t figure out the dmp-dmp-dmp sound in the garage after I parked. I was pretty sure I hadn’t run over something, but I fetched the Hearing Husband to identify the sound. Having never heard it before, I never suspected the car exhaust as it limped to a noisy finish well after the rest of the car was silent.  The man is about to start charging me a loonie (a Canadian dollar) for every positive identification he makes.  Fine—I’ll charge him a loonie for every sniff I hear, we should come out about even.

On a solo tramp through the woods today, as part of my aural rehabilitation, I took off my hearing aid and listened solely through my CI. The silence of nature is an urban myth; the sound never stopped and a great deal of it was from birds. The flapping of their wings as they moved, excitedly and unseen, in the bushes. Birdsong—some very high pitched and sweet, but mostly lower pitched, like a duck with laryngitis.  And who knows, maybe there is something going around affecting birdy vocal chords. It makes them all sound alike. That is, until Woody Woodpecker starts up—him, I recognize.

Bam! Bam! Bam! Bammity-bammity-bam-bam-bammity! 

I’m not complaining. I’m just not sure if the woods are filled with Woody’s extended pecker clan, or if I’m hearing the same damn bird all the time. The wind in the tall fir trees made a whoosh sound that took me awhile to figure out. 

When I stopped walking, it was much quieter. Turns out was also a noisemaker. The fleece of my pullover hissed as my arms swung at my side. My hiking boots connected with all sorts of forest floor stuff—stones, wood chips, plain old dirt—which created a little sylvan symphony. My hair crackled as it rubbed against my sound processor and through it all, the steady rhythm of my own breathing. The only thing not making a noise was the woodland carpet of fawn lilies (dog-toothed violets) which just sat there, quietly.

A plane flew over and for the first time since my CI was ‘turned on’, a plane sounded like it was supposed to, an actual plane-drone rather than a UVO, an Unidentified Vibrating Object. This is the category in which I lump together all unseen and unrecognized sounds heard through my CI. The fridge, water running through pipes, the dishwasher, washing/dryer, the fireplace fan and incoming text messages: they all sound alike, somewhat harsh and or even horrible, until I give the Hearing Husband a buck and he tells me what I’m hearing. Once they’ve been named, the sounds take on character and meaning.

Again, I’m not complaining; I’m grateful for the sounds—and also  for the fact that I’m carrying fewer loonies around in my pocket. Those things are heavy.

If you’re considering hearing aids or a CI, I can tell you that it’s worth it. Bring on the sound—I embrace it all—but feel free to keep your sniffing, gurgling tummies and open-mouthed chewing to yourselves.



Photo: “Birds in the Bush” linocut by Jill Kerr

About Gael Hannan

Gael Hannan is a writer, speaker and advocate on hearing loss issues. In addition to her weekly blog for, which has an international following, Gael wrote the acclaimed book "The Way I Hear It: A Life with Hearing Loss". She is regularly invited to present her uniquely humorous and insightful work to appreciative audiences around the world. Gael has received many awards for her work, which includes advocacy for a more inclusive society for people with hearing loss. She lives with her husband on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.


  1. What I have found is that our hearing aids pick up sound much differently than what hearing people hear. Hearing aids and cochlear implants are still pretty “mechanical-sounding” even to this day. Our brains can’t filter out annoying sounds like a hearing person’s brain, naturally. I was born with this hearing loss, so have never known anything else.

    The world is so noisy, I once asked my daughter how people can hear the television conversation when I have my hearing aids turned up as high as they will go, and I still can’t? I asked how they are able to hear conversation at such a quiet level, when it hurt my ears to have to turn up my hearing aid so much that other “ambient” sounds hurt my ears. How can they stand the noisy world? Their brains can block out unnecessary sounds. We can’t do that with our hearing aids and CI’s. So, the noisy world is much more confusing to us in ways we wish it wasn’t, I guess.

    1. Monica,
      What you describe is really only a problem for hearing aid users. As someone who had normal hearing, then used hearing aids for 20 years, and have now had a CI for over six years; I vividly recall what each experience is like and can compare them.
      I was never satisfied with sound through my HAs, precisely for the reasons you describe in your comment. With my CI however, the apparatus itself “disappears” in a way a hearing aid never can, because my brain is decoding electrical signals directly, rather than trying to interpret amplified sounds with the faulty wiring of my damaged inner ears. Whether it is the case of my auditory memory kicking in or not, what I hear through my CI is every bit as natural as the perfect hearing I was born with. I would call it “enhanced natural hearing”, as my technology allows tweaks that allow me to hear better than “normals” in certain situations. Of course, not everyone has the same experience, but as a leader of a CI support group I can confidently say that the majority of experienced CI users do not deal with the “sound overload” that you apparently do. I wish you well and hope that you find a better solution one day.

  2. Sniffing and other odd and interesting sounds are part of life. Now you know where hearing husband is. And yes, after a lifetime of barely hearing the birds, if at all, it’s amazing what a racket they make! Sit quietly somewhere in the woods, don’t make a sound, for about 10 – 15 minutes and the woods will really come alive. Once a deer and her fawn ambled into my view. We can’t escape their sensitive noses, so 1, 2, 3 and they were gone!

  3. After reading the first post in your series on getting your CI, I got going myself at Sunnybrook. Still good after two meetings there including the Doctor yesterday. More tests to go including CT and balance test. But the drag is – a Two Year! waiting period now. OMG. Must be a way to improve this. And Sunnybrook’s the only act in town for adults.

    1. I don’t know where Sunnybrook is, but Cleveland Clinic planted mine in a month. They do three a day last I heard. Might be worth a trip to your favorite brother for the duration.

    2. You should write to your MPP – Sunnybrook is trying to get additional funding. They are capped at 110 by the provincial government.

    3. Yeah, Ron! It may be that the waiting time is shorter than two years. The other option is London. But it’s worth waiting for. The idea to contact the MPP is a good one…and copy Sunnybrook CI program on the note.

  4. I’m enjoying reading your experiences with sounds after your cochlear implant. I’m at a point where hearing aids aren’t helping me a lot especially in understanding speech, everything sounds muffled. I haven’t looked into cochlear implants yet but I’m curious about your post-op experience with understanding and discriminating speech.

    1. Hello! The word and sentence discrimination is getting better all the time….especially since I now have the high frequencies and sibilance that I’ve not had in decaddes.

  5. Much the same experience when I was ‘turned on’. Often family members had to really stop and listen before they could figure out what I was hearing — they had tuned it out. I’ll never forget going for a bike ride inn the early evening hours and it taking my sister in law a couple of minutes to figure out that the sound I was hearing in a rhythmic pattern were crickets.

    1. The cicadas were out in force the first summer after my implantation and it drove me nuts! I could not believe the racket they made.

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