I love audiology. Every day, I go to work, and I get to have fun. I get to meet people and connect with them. I do hearing tests, I help people select appropriate hearing aids, I fit and program them. One of my favorite kinds of appointments is what we call the “HAP”. That’s a “Hearing Aid Problem.” It could be that someone’s hearing aid needs cleaning, or a tubing change, or maybe they are having feedback, or maybe their aid isn’t working anymore and they don’t know why.
Twice this past week, I’ve had to play detective in order to solve a hearing aid problem. In the first case, I had a man come in complaining that sometimes he hears the ocean in his right hearing aid.
“Do you ever hear it when you’re not wearing your hearing aids?”
“Do you ever hear it in your left hearing aid?”
“Is it there all the time, or does it come and go?”
“It comes and goes.”
“Is it happening now?”
Drat. If it were happening now, I could listen to it and see what it sounded like. I realized that his hearing aids were under warranty, so I thought it was worth sending it in to the company. There was probably something wrong with the amplifier. I selected and programmed a loaner hearing aid for him – we have a few that we can set up for people when their own aid has to go in for repair. I set it exactly like his hearing aid was set, and sent him on his way.
I was about to take my next patient, when he comes back in, pointing to the right loaner aid.
“It’s the ocean!”
He said it started happening as soon as he got outside. I called out, “Field trip!” grabbed my listening scope and we headed outside. I listened first to the loaner aid. It sounded a little odd, like there was too much low frequency gain for his loss. Then I asked to listen to the other one. BIG difference. When I listened to them together, the right hearing aid was clearly giving him too much gain in the low frequencies. So we trundled back inside, I hooked up his hearing aid, decreased the low frequency gain, and voila – problem solved.
The next day, I had a lady come in with a very old hearing aid. Maybe 9 years old. She said that since the last time she had had it cleaned, she had been hearing a very odd noise when she was riding in the car. It was so odd and loud, that she had to take her hearing aid out in the car. She couldn’t even wear it. I asked her if anyone else complained of a strange sound in the car, and she said no. I asked if it happened in other people’s cars, and she said no. I asked if it happened ONLY in the car, and she said yes. So I said, “Um, can I sit in your car?”
So off we went. I climbed into the front seat, put the hearing aid on my listening scope, and signaled to her husband to start the engine. Lo and behold, an extremely obnoxious screech came out of the hearing aid. I whipped the scope out of my ears, and sat quietly for a moment. There was a very, very, very faint hum coming from the engine. I could barely hear it. I put the scope back in my ears. Aaiiieeeee! It’s that faint hum magnified a million times!
I left them in the car, saying, “Um, I think I know what the problem is – I’ll be right back.” I quickly hooked up her hearing aid, adjusted the compression settings so that very soft sounds would not be amplified as much, and then brought it back out to her. She put it on, the husband started the engine. Voila. Problem solved. She was so happy she told me she was going to bring me chocolate the next time she comes in!
Working with hearing aids is kind of like being a detective. You have to be a good listener, and sometimes you have to be willing to sit quietly with an old couple in their car.