Sight, Sound and Beyond

Hearing Loss 101

I have decided to write about a topic very near and dear to me that so many people do not know much about: hearing loss.  It is really interesting when you meet other adults that still lack the basic understanding of hearing loss and understanding the available treatments.  I am going to answer some of the most of the frequently asked questions I receive from people whom I know both personally and professionally   Hopefully you will find my own personal account to be quite educational.

1.  I notice that even with your hearing aids on, you still don’t hear everything.  How come?

A hearing aid does not restore normal hearing the way prescription eyeglasses can restore normal vision for most wearers (my glasses don’t do that but that is another topic of discussion).  Hearing aids are called hearing aids for a reason.  They simply act as an aid or a helper to the person who wears them.  My hearing loss is the result of nerve damage inside the cochlea, which is where all the hearing magic takes place.   When a person hears something, sound waves travel inside the ear until they reach the cochlea which is located deep inside the ear, way past the ear drum.  The cochlea has fluid-filled ducts that are lined with hair cells.  These hair cells translate the sound waves into nerve impulses that the brain can understand.  Many of the hair cells in my cochlea are damaged, which causes deafness.  Because there is damage, a hearing aid cannot allow me to hear like a normal person would.  Because I have some residual hearing, the hearing aid allows me to hear the sounds better by using amplification.

2.  Why not get a cochlear implant?

Although hearing aids do not correct my hearing loss, they do manage to help me a lot.  I can communicate with people through speech rather than sign language.  Because my hearing aids are helpful, there is no need for me to have a cochlear implant.  A cochlea implant is more suitable for one who does not benefit from hearing aids at all.  A person who receives a cochlear implant often has very limited residual hearing or no hearing at all.

3.  What do you hear when you are not wearing your hearing aids?

My hearing loss is most severe in the middle frequencies.  That means that I can detect high and low sounds better than sounds that fall in between.  This type of hearing loss is called a cookie-bite loss because of how it appears on an audiogram.  Speech falls into the middle frequencies category.  Therefore, when I am not wearing my hearing aids I have difficulty hearing and understanding speech.  I may hear you faintly babbling things to me, but I won’t have the slightest clue what you are saying unless you are inches from my ear and speaking in a strong voice.  I have no problem hearing the high pitch calls of Sunny and Nikki though:-)

4.  Your speech is so clear.  How did you learn to speak so well?

Just a little background: I was not diagnosed with hearing loss until I was 8 years old.  This is due to the shape of my hearing loss.  When I was 3 1/2 years old, my mother took me to a speech therapist because I still wasn’t talking.  It was assumed that my speech delay was due to my visual impairment.  After all, I didn’t learn how to walk until I was 2 years old.  Since there was no knowledge of my hearing loss, my mother was told that I would learn to talk when I was ready.  My great aunt even added that I would learn how to talk and once I did learn, I would never stop.  P.S. She was right LOL!

Somehow, I managed to pick up the English language even though I would pronounce many words wrong.  Many members of my family speak at a higher decibel level than the average person so that helped me learn to pick up words.  As for the clarity of my speech, I would have to say that I owe that to my 15 years of singing in the school choir.  All through elementary school, junior high school, high school, college and even a year in grad school, I sang in the choir with my fellow classmates.  It was there I learned how to enunciate, which definitely enhanced the clarity of my speech.

5.  What is an FM system?

It is amazing that even those who live with hearing loss have never heard of an FM system.  My audiologist was shocked when I had told her that I had went through all my years of public schooling without the use of an FM system.  I was never offered one.  She had made the conclusion that I was just so smart and had all my teachers fooled.  Now, that’s a nice way to look at things!  Anyway, the classroom is the worst listening environment and in my final semester of graduate school, I experienced that challenge to its extreme when I took a course that met twice a week in the choral hall.  Yes, a choral hall!  It was like sitting in a large bathroom LOL!  I found myself straining to hear my professor and feeling very frustrated.  I would leave the class feeling exhausted due to my intense concentration.  It was then when I learned what an FM system was.  Finally, at the age of 26, I was learning what was available to me besides hearing aids.  It was an eye opening experience!

An FM System is simply a wireless microphone that wireless transmits sounds to a pair of headphones or hearing aids.  My FM system works with my hearing aids and allows me to hear sounds that are either far away or that are surrounded by unwanted background nose.  For more about the the FM system, you can read my post entitled What is an FM System? 

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