Hearing aid alert

Copyright: carmenbobo / 123RF Stock Photo
Copyright: carmenbobo / 123RF Stock Photo

A few months ago one of my hearing aids began occasionally playing up, or rather occasionally switching off, for no apparent reason.  After twenty-odd years of using hearing aids I’m adept at solving the little things that can go wrong (faulty batteries, or wax or condensation blocking the tubing are the most common problems) but it wasn’t any of those.  Mysteriously, left to its own devices (outside my ear) for ten or fifteen minutes the aid would switch itself on again.  Then, it would work perfectly normally for a week or so and then – whoops – go (temporarily) off again.  It was a minor irritant.  When it happened I’d tell myself to contact audiology to see if it needed servicing or something, but I never got round to it.

After a while the problems started happening more often so, when I had an appointment at the hospital in August to collect spare hearing aids just before our holiday, I mentioned it.  We discussed the sort of everyday things that can go wrong (examples above) and I explained that I was certain it was none of those.  “Let’s monitor it” was the conclusion and, as I was picking up spare hearing aids for the holiday anyway, I left it at that.  If something went wrong that I couldn’t fix on holiday I would have a spare with me, so no problem.

After the holiday the “switchings-off” got more frequent until I finally got round to contacting audiology again.  I can do that by e mail rather than telephone (hurrah, hurrah – well, after all, it IS audiology, it wouldn’t be very good if you had to phone them…).  I described the problem, explained that it was happening much more often and asked for an appointment.  Within a day or so they replied, with an appointment about 10 days later.

Last Sunday, the hearing aid completely stopped working.  I ran through all my strategies for getting it going again but to no avail.  The appointment was for Tuesday so it wasn’t too bad to limp through a couple of days with only one ear in hearing mode.

On Tuesday I was ten minutes early for the appointment.  I was seen straight away.  The audiologist asked a few questions, had a quick look at the device, satisfied herself it was indeed as dead as a dodo and then gave me a brand new one, explaining that it was almost impossible to get to the bottom of mysteriously intermittent problems.  I was heading back to the car in about fifteen minutes.  I don’t know how much the aid costs the NHS but models doing the same thing bought privately cost about £1,500 each.

Readers, that’s the story.  It seemed important to tell it, at a time when the NHS seems to be lurching into crisis (again).   Waiting times in Accident and Emergency are slipping (again).  There’s constant news of non-urgent operations having to be abandoned or rationed.  Barely a week goes by without some friend telling me about ludicrous delays in their attempts to access some service they have been assessed as needing.

If, like me, you read the hearing loss media we are constantly hearing stories about threatened or actual cuts to hearing aid provision.  In Devon, plans to restrict people to getting just one hearing aid even if they needed two were only withdrawn after a strong local campaign.  (What were they THINKING of?).  North Staffordshire have stopped providing hearing aids altogether for mild hearing losses and introduced additional assessment hurdles for people with moderate loss.  Many NHS Trusts have stopped offering follow-up appointments – they give you the hearing aid then send you off with it to cope on your own.  But hearing aids aren’t like spectacles; current digital models often need a lot of fine tuning before they give you the best experience.  I’ve really struggled with some new aids in the past, having to return multiple times before reaching a solution.  If you are persistent and assertive you will do that, but some will give up – then they wonder why a lot of people don’t wear the hearing aids they have been given.

Problems with hearing aid provision are not just a UK problem, although the issues differ depending on the health care system in place.  Some of the deafness blogs I follow are American and there you can read comments left by people who explain that they can’t afford to buy the hearing aid they’ve been told they need, and their insurance doesn’t cover it, so “what is the best hearing aid I can get for $250?”  Answer – it depends on your hearing loss but if you were me anything less sophisticated than the ones I have now would be no use at all.

I’ve written this post because when you value something, as I value the service from my excellent local NHS Audiology Department, I feel it’s important to say so.  Who knows what threats to the service lie around the corner?  If you’d like to keep up with what’s happening to hearing aid provision in the UK a good place to look is the Campaigns Page on the Action on Hearing Loss website.  You can find it here.


11 thoughts on “Hearing aid alert

  1. Hi Vera

    My local audiology department is at Airedale. They are brilliant. A couple of months ago I found out, when talking to one of the audiologists, that my Siemens Impact L aids were now obsolete, so I cheekily asked if I could have replacements, and having used my old aids with an open ear fitting that I didn’t really like I asked whether it was possible to have moulds made.

    Last Wednesday I collected a new pair of Oticon Spirit Synergy aids, with moulds.

    As I said, AGH are brilliant.

    Best wishes


  2. Hey Vera!
    I read your blog that was in The Limping Chicken and just wanted to tell you I thought it was fantastic and brilliantly written. It was really interesting to see your perspective about not how only external hearing is affected but also the internal hearing that you utilise! I’m doing a social media campaign down here in Australia about Sign Language Awareness and the Deaf community – I know you became deaf later in adult-onset however was wondering if you could maybe refer me to any other blogs that you think are good resources? Once again, loved your blog and humour!

    1. Hello Sophie. Thanks for the compliments. I love allhandsondeck – what a brilliant idea. I wish you every success with it. For UK hearing loss blogs I would look at the list on the Hearing Link website – search on “hearing link blogs”. They also list some websites and Facebook closed groups. My favourites of those are UK Hearing Loss Community and Hearing Loss Worldwide. They’d be good for spreading the message about what you are trying to do. What do you recommend in the way of Australian deafness blogging? Very best wishes and good luck. Vera.

  3. As always, interesting article. I didn’t know you cold get a spare hearing aid for emergencies – is this an nhs policy or down to individual trusts I wonder? When I asked (probably 15 years ago now) the answer was they only give spares out if you are registered blind.

    1. Interesting point. So far as I can see online it must be up to individual NHS Trusts. It’s an excellent service. So far I’ve not had a hearing aid fail on holiday but it would be pretty disastrous if one did.

  4. Really interesting to read about your experience Vera with the hearing aid playing up intermittently then packing up altogether which is uncannily like mine earlier this year. My differs in two important respects though – 1 despite several replacements (using both old and new aids) we could not get my left aid to work in my ear even if it would work out of the ear. My ears were checked by the ENT consultant but no obvious cause could be found. Eventually the decision was taken to replace my aids with a different type (Phonak instead of Oticon). Then problem 2 arose. My new right aid suddenly started getting constant low level feedback. 4 new moulds later, I still have the issue. It is really getting me down but as you say, perseverance is paramount so I will keep working with my local NHS audiology dept who are very supportive.

    1. Gosh that sounds really mystifying. I hope they manage to sort something out. I’m not surprised it’s been getting you down. People (hearing people) sometimes think hearing aids are a magic fix but living with them often brings home the limitations.

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