GratiTuesday: I can hear clearly now

About twenty years ago, I started to notice that the hearing in my right ear was “off.” Sometimes I heard a crackling static and sometimes it sounded like I had water in my ear. As irritating as those symptoms were, it wasn’t until I began to experience hearing loss that I decided to see a doctor.

Long story short, I was given the diagnosis of otosclerosis (a disease of the bone surrounding the inner ear) and had a surgical procedure which removed the teeny little stapes bone and replaced it with a micro prosthesis.

All was great until about five years later, when something “slipped” and I again experienced hearing loss – this time with the added bonus of constant tinnitus.

With one fully-functioning ear and one functioning at about 40%, I have learned to adapt pretty well. I always try to position myself at a table so my good ear is facing the conversation; I am comfortable telling someone sitting on my right that I might not hear them clearly (or at all); and, I am able to ignore the constant ringing in my ear (for the most part) so it doesn’t drive me nuts. One positive outcome is that, when I sleep with my left ear on my pillow, I don’t hear such things as barking dogs, car alarms, and my husband’s snoring.

One challenge I continued to struggle with was the television. Too soft and I couldn’t hear the dialog, too loud and my husband felt that the TV was yelling at him (and, even at higher volumes, I could hear the dialog but I often still had a hard time understanding it). Add to that the way characters tend to talk over each other and the British accents on many of the shows we watch, and we often found ourselves resorting to close captioning.

Not anymore. I now have wireless headphones that allow me to hear the dialog clearly while maintaining the TV volume at a reasonable level. The brand we have is Sennheiser, but Sony and others make them too. I can adjust my own volume level separate from the television and even up and down between the right and left side. My husband is relieved that I can hear without blasting the volume or having to turn on captioning. I’m pleased that I can hear the dialog clearly. In fact, I can hear so well that I often have to repeat dialog back to him.

I am grateful that my headphones have allowed me to clearly hear the dialog on television again. Although my hearing loss started in my forties, lots of others experience it as a part of aging. There are a variety of tools available to help, and one of these days I may try a hearing aid, but right now I’m happy. I’m even thinking about re-watching the whole six seasons of Downton Abbey to hear what I missed.

64 thoughts on “GratiTuesday: I can hear clearly now”

  1. I feel for you…I would rather lose (Most of) my hearing than my eyesight. My step mom has tinnitus but can’t really afford treatment. I have nerve damage from my early 20s (from working in loud video arcades). I watch TV with the closed captions; everyone is used to it, lol!. I have trouble at the movies, so I don’t go too much. Funny you mention your hearing loss today, as I just came from a doc appt for an earache due to allergies and congestion. Sigh…can’t even blame this on aging!! I may have to look into those earphones!

    1. I think hearing loss is pretty common these days. In addition to aging, so many have loss from working in loud environments or just listening to music too loud. The earphones really help, but, of course, I’m on my own at the movies. We don’t go very often for that reason. I’m sorry that you are still dealing with your allergies… and now earaches!

  2. This made me smile, Janis. Because your story came with a twist (I expected an operation to return your hearing, not headphones. Since I am reading on my iPad, I only scroll as little as I need to read, so the photo came as a surprise.), because of your positive outlook, and because of your last statement. I am trying to think back about our dinner with you. Did you turn your head a certain direction? I might have (slightly) noticed. But, not sure at all. We might need a repeat. 🙂

    Congrats on finding a solution. When we watch TV and movies, I always require subtitles, since that makes it easier to understand English, especially when there are dialects involved. Mark and his family have luckily gotten used to that. Movie theaters are challenging sometimes, although, I ought to be able to watch American TV without the written words after living with a “local” for 13 years.

    1. It’s funny how voices in certain ranges are more of a challenge than others… I don’t remember that you or Mark were difficult to understand. But, I did sit so that my good ear was facing into the conversation – it’s just a habit.

      And, of course we should have dinner again! 🙂

  3. Glad you have found a partial workaround to your problem. John loves his Sennheiser headphones for different reasons – they are great on planes. So sad to read the comment above about someone who cannot afford treatment. With our NHS we don’t have that problem here – yet, but I worry about the direction of travel.

    1. I have noise-canceling headphones for plane trips too – I wouldn’t leave home without them! It is sad that anyone has to forgo medical treatments because of cost. Hopefully that will change in the future, but, obviously, not soon here.

  4. I had MY stapedectomies before I was 35. Unfortunately, the wire on my left ear slipped off and into my inner ear, where it cannot be retrieved. So MY good ear is my right. Like you, I appreciate the ability to block out ALL noise by sleeping on my good ear.

    Thanks for the tip about the headphones. I will definitely check those out.

    1. We would be perfect walking partners… I’d want to be on your left, and you’d want me on your right! I hope having a migrating wire in your inner ear isn’t dangerous. It is nice to be able to block out sounds – I don’t sleep well anyway so that’s helpful, especially when I’m sleeping somewhere away from home.

  5. Glad you found such a great workaround. 🙂 My husband has worn hearing aids for several years due to service in the Army and probably the aging issue. When he wears his hearing aids, we can maintain a TV volume that is comfortable for both of us. If I’m gone and he chooses not to wear them, when I return the volume would rock the place. I always know without asking what the issue is. 🙂

    1. I found that even if we turned the volume way up, I still had trouble hearing every word, especially when accents were involved. I’m glad your husband’s hearing aids are working for him. I understand they have come a LONG way from how well they worked before. You can even get them with Bluetooth.

  6. I’ve never heard of the operation you had, but I can understand why you needed it. I also appreciate your recommendation of headphones. I’m completely ignorant about them, but have come to realize that there must be something better than my ear buds. Glad to know that you can hear better now, and second your decision to re-watch Downton Abbey– for any number of reasons.

    1. Earbuds never worked very well for me. These headphones sit comfortably over my ears and are easy to adjust. There are so many quality British shows on public television, and it’s so nice to finally be able to hear the dialog clearly.

  7. So glad you found something to help. My M-I-L needed two hearing aids but would only wear one. When she visited, the tv blasted. Fortunately, my hearing is fine, but one never knows what the future holds.

  8. You have just made a public service announcement, because I’m sure there are many like me who are whooping with joy at the thought of a solution to a spouse who needs TV volume uncomfortably loud. I will definitely be looking into this!!

    I too have tinnitus which becomes worse during allergy season. Unfortunately, now that I have a cat, that means basically all the time. I’m lucky that I still have very good hearing and I’m sorry for you and your hearing challenges. It is a growing problem as we age and thankfully there are some excellent solutions.

    1. We tried some of the cheaper “solutions” like TV Ears, but they didn’t work very well so we took them back. The headphones aren’t perfect, but they have really helped to make TV watching more comfortable. Tinnitus can be really irritating – it’s hard to explain what it sounds like to someone who doesn’t suffer from it.

  9. Thanks for this timely post. I am experiencing, what I hope it, a temporary hearing problem. If this situation doesn’t clear up (as current doctors suggest it will) I may be looking for solutions like these headphones. Actually, they seem like they might be good for late-night viewing.

    1. Actually, that’s how I first heard about them. Some friends had them because she stayed up later than her husband did, listening to music or watching TV. He could sleep while she enjoyed her alone time in the evening. I was intrigued and thought they could help with my issue too.

  10. I don’t understand mine, the ringing comes and goes in the left ear. I have about 60% loss in that ear even when the ringing is gone. I am going to look into the headphones too, I have thought about them for a long time.

    The strangest thing sometimes is the different tones that you can hear. Even in the bad ear, sometimes I hear a sound/tone the wife can’t hear. It also causes sounds to appear from the wrong direction.

    My ringing sound is like recording a session of Cicadas in the yard and then playing it on medium volume through an ear bud in the left ear.

    1. I have found that I can understand some people completely, while with others I struggle. My hearing loss is more pronounced in certain ranges. People who have soft voices are especially difficult to hear, as well as conversations at parties where there are sounds come from many directions. That’s probably when a hearing aid would come in handy. I also struggle with the direction of sounds. If my cell phone rings in my house, I often have no idea where to look for it. Your description of tinnitus is perfect!

      1. I’ve figured out that the reason I miss some words is they are spoken in the missing tonal range. Or a syllable in a word is spoken in that tonal range and it causes the word not to sound right and I don’t understand it.

  11. So timely. I decided to get my hearing tested again this year. I struggle. I need to face people. More than 4 people at a table in a restaurant is traumatic. I have started announcing that I am “hard of hearing” so people understand I’m not being weird (who me? weird?). I read lips. My husband has those headphones. He also has hearing issues that he denies. It has saved me from being blasted out of the house when he watches TV. He loves them. I should get a pair myself.

    1. I also find that four people is about my limit at a table. More than that and I miss so much. I have found that letting people know that I’m having trouble hearing them is much better than pretending and maybe making inappropriate responses to a remark (guessing at what they’ve said). His and her headphones – perfect!

  12. How wonderful you were able to source & share a product which no doubt many of us aging folk would benefit from! I chuckled when you suggested you may go back & re-watch six seasons of Downton Abbey. Your husband may regret the purchase of those headphones!

  13. I think my hearing is getting worse as I age. My grandmother refused to wear hearing aids and she missed out on a lot of conversations. We have to repeat a lot to my mother or speak loudly. Mine just feels like allergies-blocked sometimes. The doctor says they look clear.

    We went to Lowell, MA NHP last weekend where there were huge clothing machine shops during the industrial revolution. They run about 11 of the machines during the day so you can see them work. The machines were so loud I cannot even imagine working with 100 of them going! The whole floor shook!

    1. We are fortunate that hearing aids have come a long way from what was available to your grandmother. Most are almost undetectable and do a great job filtering out certain sounds (rather than just amplifying everything). It’s too bad that she missed so much. I bet most of the people who worked in that machine shop lost much of their hearing… and had no way of correcting it.

  14. Like Joanne, I am happy to have a solution to help with my husband’s “television volume control” (super loud even when I am in the other room….with the door closed)!
    Like Liesbet, I don’t remember any lulls in our conversation when we met for lunch (which is strange because my low voice is one that many people with hearing difficulties cannot hear well). I agree with Liesbet, we will need a repeat (and I would be happy to schedule one for October when we are out that way again)!

    1. I’ve gotten really good at positioning myself so I can hear pretty well with my left ear only. I would have asked you to speak up if I had problems. And, yes, let’s plan to get together again in October! I’m looking forward to it.

      I hope the headphones help with your husband’s need for volume!

  15. Ah, the aging process…such fun. No hearing problems yet, but a recent lens replacement for what was touted as ‘routine’ cataract surgery has completely washed out the vision in my left eye – an outcome met with something akin to “Yeah, that happens sometimes” by my ophthalmologist. So now I’m learning to adapt to a ‘split-screen’ world (depth perception is the most notable issue) while looking for another specialist.

  16. Hi Janis! We’ve only met in person a couple of times but I didn’t realize that you had any hearing issues at all. I do too…but instead of buying the kind of aid that you are using, I went to Costco and got the kind that are tiny and sit behind my ear. With my hair, no one even guesses I wear them and the BEST news IMHO is that I can adjust the volume in one or the other ear AND I can also listen to my phone handsfree…the Bluetooth streams the voices over my ear buds. If you have 40% in one ear you can always just get one hearing aid for that ear and would be able to adjust it the same from your phone. Keep that in mind. I think that the age of “hearing aids” as we knew them from our parent’s generation is so much different. Let me know if I can answer any questions for you. ~Kathy

    1. I remember your post about your hearing aids and how happy you were with them. I imagine that I’ll be getting at least one one-of-these-days. The new ones they have now are amazing.

      I recently heard an interesting story (“Is it time for hearing aids to be sold over the counter?” – on NPR, of course) about a push to make hearing aids – for those with mild to moderate hearing loss –
      something we could purchase like readers for our eyes. Currently the FDA regulates them and requires them to be prescribed by a hearing specialist – and they aren’t covered by Medicare or most insurance plans. This would make them much cheaper and easier to get. How great would that be? It looks like there is bipartisan support, amazingly enough.

  17. It sounds like yours is a timely post for many of your followers! I’m glad that you’ve found a solution that works for you, without having to resort to invasive surgery and without having to compromise your husband’s comfort level, too.

    We in our household are in the denial stage regarding hearing loss. He still insists that it’s worthwhile holding a conversation from several rooms away, even though every time I reply, he hollers, “WHAT?!”

    I have mild tinnitus, but haven’t had my hearing tested. It’s one of those things, right?

    1. I figured it would be helpful info for many of us “at a certain age.” My husband also hollers from another room… he says that I do the same thing 🙂 I’m not sure if there is much they can do for tinnitus, unfortunately… it really can be annoying.

  18. I’m glad you found a solution that works for you! I have a friend whose husband and two children suffer from severe hearing loss, so I know what a challenge that can be.

  19. I no longer have wireless headphones (my old ones died), but they were a life-saver when my wife worked shift work. I could still watch tv while she slept soundly in the next room. OK. Maybe life-saver is a bit over the top, but I really liked them!

    Isn’t it amazing what modern medicine and technology can do to add to our lives? Imagine the first people to ever get prescription glasses, no matter how crude! I have glaucoma and am so incredibly thankful for early detection and treatment. Every time I put the drops in, I recognize that I am putting off blindness that would have been a certainty years ago.

    Enjoy Downton. I just finished Season 6 and am eagerly awaiting the 7th!

    1. If not a life-saver, at least they make life easier! I was amazed that, with my first surgery, they could replace a teeny-tiny bone. I had hoped that my bionic ear would continue to work, but that was not meant to be… I don’t know much about glaucoma, but I’m glad you are able to take advantage of modern medicine. I keep hoping they find that cure for everything before I get it!

  20. This is a great story! And a reminder that sometimes things that might seem like such small conveniences (like a set of headphones) can be life-altering. 🙂

  21. Hi Janis, I’m amazed that you can ignore the tinnitus. A friend has that problem and says that he is bothered by it all of the time. Does it just become background eventually or did you do something specific to be able to ignore it?
    Two thumbs up for the Sennheisser headphones. I bought them for my dad years ago and they were a lifesaver – for him and for my mom who finally didn’t have to hear him blasting the television when he couldn’t sleep late at night.

    1. I always hear the tinnitus buzzing and ringing (it changes tones all the time), but I’ve just learned to ignore it (like white noise, I guess), unless I think about it (like now 🙂 ). Otherwise, it would probably drive me crazy. I’m glad that your dad was able to enjoy having headphones too – they are good for those with hearing loss and for those who live with people on different schedules… or who like different programs.

  22. This is a really helpful post, Janis. My wife likes her hearing aids a lot, but sometimes she still struggles with them while watching TV. I sent this to her to consider the headphones. Thanks! – Marty

  23. Technology is a great buffer to aging! I’ve been wondering about my own hearing lately. Sometimes, in close proximity to or in tight spaces with someone who talks very loudly, I’ll experience an almost painful buzzing in my left ear. And when watching TV, I have difficulty adjusting the sound. If I can understand the dialogue, then the music and sound affects blast me out of the room. For a while I thought it was my equipment. But I bought a new sound bar and still experience that problem. It could also be the way the sound engineers mix the audio these days. Or…it could my ears. 😦 Time for a checkup I’m sure. I understand that the longer hearing loss continues unchecked, the less effective the hearing aides will be.

    1. It definitely sounds like time for a check-up. Hearing loss can happen so slowly that everything seems “normal” until it isn’t. I hope whatever is going on can get resolved easily… once you get aids (if that’s what you need), you might be amazed to hear what you’ve been missing. Good luck!

  24. I’ll have to remember this if/when I encounter hearing problems. I’ve developed many of the typical problems of aging, but so far this isn’t one of them. Or maybe it is and I just don’t realize it since I live alone and can turn the TV up as loud as I want.

    1. Even with the TV’s volume up, I still have a problem hearing the dialog clearly. I suspect your hearing is OK if you can understand what everyone is saying – both on TV and in social situations. My dad’s hearing was perfect up to when he passed away at age 93. My mom never needed glasses. I guess we all experience the joys of aging a little differently. 🙂

  25. I love your positive outlook on life Janis! Once again you are an inspiration. Those headphones are awesome and I know a few people who might benefit from them so I will pass this post along. I have had bouts of tinnitus but lucky for me it has not become chronic.

    1. My hearing loss is relatively minor compared to others. I find it a little odd that I can tune out the tinnitus for the most part because I tend to focus on sounds that annoy me (like people talking in the theater or a barking dog at night) 🙂 I hope your friends find the headphones helpful!

  26. Even though I don’t have a hearing loss yet I do tend to stay up late watching TV which disturbs other people. Thank you for this great advice. Take care!

  27. This is a very good idea and something I’d not thought of before. I wonder if our TV has a headphoine socket… (does it not turn off the sound from the speakers? It does on most hifi units). That said I don’t often watch TV. 🙂

    My own hearing has been going for years, not deafness so much as audio distortion. I used to be able to pick out individual bass notes in music but now bass just sounds muddy and distorted, and treble (or ‘top end’ as my musician husband refers to it) sounds tinny – like it’s coming from one of those 1960s mini-transistor radios (remember them?)

    1. I think newer TVs have the sockets… and I think there is a way to set it up to either turn off the speaker sound (if you are trying to mute the TV, for instance if someone else is sleeping), of make it so both the speakers and the headphones work. Fortunately, my husband figured all that out. I just have to put on the headphones 🙂 I would think something like that could help you enjoy music more too.

  28. My Husband is the one with the hearing loss. Sooner or later he will have to invest in a headset, although wearing his hearing aids would help but I know when he gets home from work (almost retired) he likes to remove them. BUT with Xbox one we have been trying to find a set that does not have the microphone attached that would work.. no luck.. yet…………………… I feel your Husbands pain. for now I am the one plugging my ears so I don’t have to keep asking to turn the volume down.

    1. I’m getting closer to feeling comfortable about spending the $$ for a hearing aid (I just need one at this point), but the headphones have really helped BOTH of us enjoy TV more. Good luck on your search for the perfect solution for your household. Thank you for commenting!

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