Sam Bauman: A battle to get new hearing aids up and working



Readers of this column know that I have been switching hearing aids through the Veterans Affairs facility in Reno. The hearing battle goes back more than 30 years, starting when I found myself asking, “What did you say?” more and more often.

I first went to Costco’s hearing aids department. They tested and confirmed my hearing loss. A $2,000 pair of hearing aids the size of an olive were bought and served well, except I kept losing one when I would take my ski helmet off and one would fall into the snow.

I replaced those first hearing aids about four years later but then while checking with the VA in Reno I was told the VA would update my aids so I switched to VA pair. They served well for about eight years when I stumbled on a description of new “wireless” aids.

The VA quickly offered me a pair of the new aids, saying they should have offered new ones when my current ones were due to have been replaced. New hearing tests by Audiologist Nanci Campbell of Carson City confirmed the hearing loss and the VA made a mold of my ear canals and ordered a modern set for me by Oticon.

All went well with the help of audiologist Dr. Mark Weeks of Carson City. I had dropped in at the VA to see if the fitting of the new ones could be done by Weeks since the VA didn’t have staff to do it until late September. The VA said they would do it at once and did so.

It was a whirlwind day of fitting the aids — over the ear with a tiny, molded ear piece going into the ear. It was a rushed procedure with lessons fast and detailed. But I managed to get the buds in my ears.

For about a week, the new ones worked well, but all the advantages of wireless eluded me — no direct phone calls to the hearing aids, volume controls weak. And then the left ear began to ache and removing the mold painful to the extreme. I visited Dr. Weeks as I couldn’t get VA help for several days.

He buffed the left mold and suggested I do without if for two days, which I did. But when I inserted it the pain was still great. Back to the VA on the day of the week problems were examined. Two hours of waiting and a techie heard my pleas. He made some minor adjustments and told me to wait two days before putting it back in use.

I guess I’ll be seeing Dr. Weeks this week. The point of this report is to alert seniors to potential problems when giving up old hearing aid ”friends.”

Coincidentally, I came across an article in the Mayo Clinic’s Health Letter about “sudden hearing loss.” The afflicted wakes to find hearing in one ear is gone and instead hears a ringing or buzzing sounds. That is tinnitus and often comes with sudden hearing loss, usually in just one ear.

An urgent case of sudden hearing loss is sensorineural hearing loss (SSNHL). This can be caused by a stroke, cancer, a drug side effect or infection. But most SSNHL occurs with no identifiable reason. It may happen suddenly and not be apparent, or it may be discovered when using a telephone.

Sudden hearing may be joined by symptoms of a stroke such as numbness or weakness in one side of the body. Not every case of sudden hearing loss is urgent but you won’t know until it is usually examined by an MRI scan.

Sometimes the loss heals itself, but that’s unpredictable.

Prompt treatment with corticosteroids or dexamethasone is helpful. Early use of these two is important, says Mayo. It’s generally of little use to employ these if a month has passed since the attack. Hyperbaric treatment — breathing pure oxygen in a tank — improves oxygen supply and can help, but it is expensive.

The good news is that 85 percent of those with SSNHL who are often-treated regain most of their hearing.

Sam Bauman writes about senior affairs, among other things, for the Nevada Appeal.


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