I apologize in advance for the length of this initial post. But I’d like to give a full picture so that those of you who are kind enough to read my post and respond know the full story.
I’ve recently been diagnosed with a hearing loss (mild-to-moderate?) after reporting to my PCP that my long time tinnitus had changed in both character and duration in the past year. He referred me to an audiologist who did a full hearing screening and who recommended that I be seen by a different audiologist in the same group for a full tinnitus evaluation. The results of the first hearing screening are in my signature.
I saw the second audiologist on Friday and I should get the written results sometime this week. The second audiologist believes that the tinnitus is caused by the more severe hearing loss that I have in the higher frequencies, and since my tinnitus is high pitched, this makes sense to me. She took a nice long time to talk to me after the screening was over and among other things we talked about what things I found particularly frustrating with my hearing as well as my career and my somewhat active lifestyle. She also told me that while I am coping quite well right now with the hearing loss, I should consider hearing aids since an appropriate pair of hearing aids might reduce some of the daily frustrations I have been having and attributing to the tinnitus. The audiologist (whom I do trust) said that it’s up to me to decide whether to try hearing aids or not. She said that it’s reasonable for me to wait if I want, but that I need to realize that the problems I’ve been attributing to the tinnitus in the past year are actually caused by the hearing loss. She also took a nice long time to talk to me after the screening to go over the results and we also talked about what things I found particularly frustrating with my hearing as well as my career, my somewhat active lifestyle, and my mother-in-law’s long history of being frustrated with her own Miracle Ear hearing aids. (MIL has “worn” hearing aids for at least 10 years; she’s on her second pair of aids and has never been particularly happy with them.) I asked the audiologist what sort of hearing aids she would recommend if/when I decide to get some. Given what I said about my lifestyle, job, and my specific concerns about hearing aids, the audiologist said that I would probably do best with top-of-the-line BTE or RITE aids or at least middle-of-the-line BTE or RITE aids because the software used to process the sound would do a better job of doing what I want the hearing aids to do.
I’d like to give you the same information about my background that I gave the audiologist.
I am an almost 58-year-old female college math professor (class sizes are usually 10-25 students). I don’t have significant problems understanding most of my students and I typically follow the conversation in faculty and committee meetings without too many problems. But I have significant problems understanding my soft-spoken husband and my very soft spoken son who both have a tendency to mumble at times. (When hubby articulates his words, I have less of an issue understanding him.) I also do have trouble understanding the most soft-spoken of my students—in a class of 20-25, there are usually 2-3 students that I have real problems understanding. I also subjectively feel that my problems with understanding my husband and those soft-spoken students are growing. I find that I often turn the TV up when I’m watching it if there is quiet dialog, but as soon as music or loud conversation or action (i.e. things that “go boom”) come on the TV show, the noise level seems painfully loud to me and there’s a race to lower the volume as fast as I can before it triggers a migraine headache. (Loud noises have been a migraine trigger for me ever since I can remember.) I don’t have problems when talking on the landline telephone except to my son; talking on cell phones is often an issue, and as a consequence, I resist carrying a cell phone with me. I’ve also become very frustrated over my inability to hear many pleasant background sounds such as birds singing, crickets chirping, leaves rustling in the wind, etc. And I’m quite frustrated over the fact that I can’t reliably hear when it starts to rain gently so that I can close the car windows and house windows before it starts to rain hard enough to get things seriously wet. When hubby asks whether there’s a toilet running or a faucet dripping, that’s another annoyance for me. But I can hear when our heater/ac unit comes on just fine, and it’s “loud enough” to interfere with my ability to watch TV, and it wasn’t that subjectively “loud” 2 years ago.
So I’m not opposed to the idea of getting hearing aids, but cost is an issue—my insurance will pay nothing for them, which is not uncommon. But I also want to make sure that if I spend several thousand dollars on a pair of hearing aids, that there’s good probability that I will actually like them enough to wear them and benefit from them.
My concerns (fears?) about hearing aids are largely based on my MIL’s not very positive experience. Here’s a list of my main concerns:
- Over amplification of sounds I can already hear just fine. On the hearing test, I started to experience some discomfort in both ears by 80 dB. At 55-65 dB, I scored 100% on word recognition on the hearing tests. My understanding is that ordinary conversation is often around 60dB in loudness, and I don't want ordinary conversation amplified to the point where it starts to become painful. This is my primary worry since my MIL has repeatedly complained of how her hearing aids make everything too loud.
- Inability to identify where sound is coming from. One of my MIL's complaints about her first set of aids was that when she was having dinner with multiple family members that she had a tough time figuring who was speaking to her. (It doesn't help that two of her sons are identical twins and their voices do sound exactly alike.)
- Durability. I enjoy being outside in all kinds of weather. Hubby and I hike and camp in the summer. I garden. I like taking long walks in the rain. In the winter time we ski once a week.
- Concern that hearing aids will do little or nothing to bring the pleasant non-speech background sounds back into my life. As I said earlier: I miss nature sounds when I'm outside. It's only been in the last couple of years where this has been an issue, and this past year in particular, I've been attributing my inability to hear a lot of these sounds to "the tinnitus is so loud that it's drowning out all the pleasant background sounds.
On the other hand, I’m also a bit worried that if I just put up with my current level of hearing loss, I’ll lose my ability to distinguish and ignore background noise to the point that when I get to where I must use hearing aids, I’ll have the same problem that my MIL has with her aids: She’s constantly complaining that the aids make all the background noise so loud that it’s difficult for her to hear and follow a conversation if she’s in a somewhat noisy environment.
So now for my questions:
- Are more expensive hearing aids likely to do a better job of amplifying only the sounds that I need amplified?
2. Are more expensive hearing aids more likely to allow me to hear those pleasant background sounds that started vanishing from my hearing in the last couple of years ? In other words, is it silly to hope that a properly programmed pair of top-of-the-line hearing aids will enrich my whole aural environment rather than just amplifying speech, including speech that I can already hear reasonably well?
3. Would I be more likely to be happier with a BTE or RITE style hearing aid? I’m not particularly vain and the idea of having something totally plugging up my ears does bother me—my ears sometimes get a clogged feeling when my allergies are acting up and I really dislike that feeling.
- How hard is it to wear glasses and BTE/RITE hearing aids at the same time? I’m severely near sighted and wear glasses almost constantly. I also change from distance glasses to reading glasses or prescription sun glasses multiple times a day. (I just could not grade or read comfortably with no-line bifocals since there was just too much head movement required to find the right part of the lens to read through.)
Finally, any tips folks want to give me? Any specific brands or models of aids people think I ought to look into?
Thanks in advance for any advice or help you can provide me!