I’ve written before about my hearing loss. Years ago, I was about 5 feet away from a tree that got struck by lightning, and lost my hearing for a couple of days. When it returned, it only returned partially. I permanently lost some of my high-frequency response. I was 18 when that happened, and over the years the loss of the ability to hear high frequencies has gotten worse. I began to notice that I was having a hard time understanding women and children speak, as their voices are more in that high-frequency range.
The above is my hearing test from 3 years ago. For normal hearing, the lines should all be within the grey area at the top of each chart. Note that I’m pretty close for frequencies below 2000Hz, but that it drops precipitously past that. Typical age-related hearing loss has a more-or-less flat response that is evenly lower than the grey area.
I had tried hearing aids a while ago, and they just weren’t advanced enough to help my specific issue. Three years ago I read about improvements in the technology, and liked what I found. I brought my wife to the fitting session, and it was obvious how much better I could understand her when she spoke. I was thrilled!
But it wasn’t easy, especially at first. My brain had been used to processing the sound levels my ears could hear, and all of a sudden they were wildly different! Many times things sounded screechy, almost painful. I was in the supermarket and an announcement came over the loudspeakers, and it hurt so bad I had to pull the hearing aids out. The same thing happened when I went to wash dishes: the sound of the water running from the faucet was uncomfortably hissy-sounding.
My wife has worked with many hearing-impaired and deaf kids who have had cochlear implants, and mentioned that many times the kids tear them out because the sensation is so unpleasant to them. If they’ve never had the ability to hear, their brain can’t interpret the nerves being stimulated (irritated, more accurately) by the implant, so it doesn’t come across as useful information, just irritating noise. I never really understood that until that day in the supermarket when I had to remove my hearing aids because the sound was very irritating.
It wasn’t all unpleasant, of course. I am now able to hear birds chirping and singing! It’s really odd to be listening to them, and then remove the hearing aids – the chirping just stops! It’s not quiet chirping; it’s not there at all. Then I replace them in my ears, and once again I can hear the birds singing.
Within a few months my brain largely re-wired itself to better balance the sounds it was receiving. What’s funny is when I forget to put the hearing aids in, say, after a shower, and start speaking with my wife: she sounds like she has a pillow over her mouth! That just shows how adapted my brain has become to having those high frequencies available.