Living with Bone Anchored Hearing Aids by Michael Isaacs

Hearing loss has been a major part of my life since childhood. At the age of 5 I had reoccurring ear infections. A couple of years later I had grommets put in each ear to try and ease the number of infections, but unfortunately this only provided temporary relief. The next few years would see me having operations to repair damaged ear drums, regular hearing tests and a lot of ear drops! I also discovered as a child during bonfire night that the sound of fireworks was so painful in my ears to the point where it made me cry. I would later inadvertently discover, during my autistic sons doctors appointment, that this was a condition called ‘hypercausis’, which my son was diagnosed with that same day. After many years of ear infections that continued into my adult life, I was finally referred to a consultant specialist who acted swiftly to try and resolve my issues .A suppressed immune system due to the medication I take to treat Crohns disease, meant that wearing in ear hearing aids made me frequently prone to ear infections. This ultimately meant that using baha hearing aids would potentially be a better alternative. Thorough hearing tests showed on the audiogram report that my hearing loss was severe enough to be eligible for bone anchored hearing aids. I was told that my hearing loss was significant but not quite enough to warrant cochlear implant surgery.  

The wait for surgery was long and difficult. I was full of both optimism and fear. I wondered if I had made the right decision, having two metal implants in my skull sounded quite a scary and invasive prospect. I worried about how painful it was going to be, how strange it would feel, and the opinions people would have of me, and my robotic like appearance. As a test run I was given a softband with two bahas connected to it, which give me a better idea of what to expect. The softband certainly bettered any experience I’d had with in ear hearing aids, as the sound was certainly more crisp and clear. However after a few months the softband became more and more uncomfortable to wear, and this only heightened my frustrations further as I continued the long wait for a surgery date to arrive in the post. I became very self conscious wearing the softband, after all it was a very conspicuous blue band visible across the top of my bald head (hair loss from Crohns medication), and was often referred to frequently in conversations with other people. I don’t want to give the impression that I was ungrateful for it, which was certainly not the case, but although the softband was good, I knew through research that the surgery would be even better in terms of boosting my hearing. I started to doubt whether this was the right thing for me to do, as each month passed and the ear infections continued to relentlessly hit my hearing. When the appointment arrived there was certainly a sense of relief knowing that potentially unheard sounds were now appearing on the horizon. 

After having to endure a torrid two years of ear infections throughout the pandemic, being given the green light to have surgery in April this year was truly a welcome relief. The end of April was a turning point for me as I finally had the surgery I had been waiting for; two metal implants fitted to the back of my skull. This would then enable me, 4 weeks post surgery, to be loaded with bilateral BAHAS (bone anchored hearing aids).

The surgery itself consisted of 3 procedues; tympanoplasty to repair a hole in my right ear drum, and then two implants fitted to the back of my skull. After the surgery, it was obviously sore and sensitive but I was relieved to have finally had it done. The following few weeks would prove to be difficult as the incisions at the back of my head struggled to heal. I had to regularly attend the William harvey hospital in Ashford for stiches and antibiotic treatments for stubborn infections. I can’t praise enough the staff, doctors and nurses who were brilliant and supportive at each and every appointment I attended, we are so lucky to have the NHS.

Fitting day in early June was an unusual experience. As I tried out different bahas it was a strange feeling having sound travel into the back of my head and into my skull. In technical terms, the sound processor captures sound, turns this into vibrations which are then transmitted through the bone via the implant and directly into the cochlea in the inner ear. On the skins surface are two abutments, which are connectors linking the sound processor and implant. The sound processors were configured (via wireless technology such as Bluetooth communicating with a computer) to compensate gaps in my hearing by using data from my most recent audiogram. Once I learnt how to connect the sound processors to the abutments, which was a lot of trial and error, I was all set up and ready to go.

A huge cacophony of sound hit me, lots of noises and voices to decipher, I knew this was going to take some time for me brain to get used to the bahas. Generally speaking it’s been brilliant to hear more clearly, I got particularly emotional when I heard the car radio for the first time in a long while. I can change the controls and settings via an app, and stream music, phone calls and video audio. It’s not perfect and I still struggle, but the sound quality has been a big improvement compared to when I wore the softband prior to my surgery.

I hope that bahas are recognised and acknowledged as being a vital option for the deaf community. I also hope that in time they are held in the same esteem as inn ear hearing aids and cochlear implants, because they are life changing. 

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