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IT HAPPENED TO ME: I’m 27 and I Just Got Hearing Aids

Doctor Fitting Female Patient With Hearing Aid

After an adverse reaction to medication left me with Tinnitus (a constant ringing in your ears, it’s lovely), I was put through a series of hearing tests. I sat in a vault-like room listening for beeps of varying volume. Afterward, they told me that I had high frequency hearing loss, and I’d be a great candidate for hearing aids.

Um, no, I do not need those.

Big, clunky, ugly pieces of wannabe skin-color machinery, shoved into wax-filled hairy old-man-ears… I don’t need them. It’s just that I have to read lips in loud places and my close friends know to stand on my left side because my right ear is worse than my left and sometimes I miss important things in meetings and on phone calls.

Ah… well…

I walk into the hearing aid place my insurance company recommended. The audiologist brings me into his office and runs through what feels like his usual spiel. After tapping his fingers on the keyboard for a minute, he hands me a pair of ear buds that are wired to his computer.

“You’ll hear static for a moment before they turn on.”

I put them in, and hear the static like he says. Then the static stops, and suddenly, there are… sounds.

Everywhere. Everything has a sound. It’s like I can see the space around me, but with my ears. I hear the hum of his computer, the sound of his pants on his office chair as he shifts his position to look closer at the screen.

He picks up a piece of paper and I hear it. I hear a piece of paper. It crinkles and as his fingers move across it, I can hear the texture.

My eyes start uncontrollably watering as I realize how much I have to experience and hear. I shuffle my feet on the floor, taking so much joy in hearing the synthetic threads against my shoes. I kick my purse with my foot and hear everything inside move. It’s like a drug, and I am greedy for it.

He tells me that I can take them off… but I stall, asking him questions so I can keep them in a bit longer.

“Where are these manufactured? How long have you been an audiologist? Have you ever been to the restaurant next door?”

We go over pricing (average being $4k+) and I leave his office seeking out a second opinion.

I did some Googling and landed on the website of Dr. Stephen Kirsch, an audiologist just up the street. His website said that he and his wife spend time outfitting children in Africa with hearing aids. Um, yes. I like him already. I call and make an appointment.

He welcomes me into his office and I’m feeling anxious, but trying to play it cool, wondering when I’ll get to put hearing aids in my ears again. We start talking about my hearing loss, and then he asks me if I want to try some out. “YES, YES I DO.”

His aren’t wired to a computer like the other guy’s. They’re just regular hearing aids, and they’re TINY. Like, I could accidentally swallow them in a salad and not notice, tiny.

He helps me put them in, and my eyes widen, searching the room for something new to hear.

“They’re not on yet,” he tells me. “Oh,” I sheepishly respond.

Just like the other guy, he tells me I’ll hear static for a minute while he adjusts things. Then, like before, my ears switch on. I light up, and this time, so does the other person in the room. He taps his fingers on his desk; he picks up a piece of paper and shakes it around, indulging my greediness for sound.

He tells me some things to expect. How I’ll get used to hearing my own voice, it might be overwhelming in loud places, and… I’ll be able to accurately represent myself. I hadn’t thought of that last one, and I didn’t fully understand it at the time, but I would come to.

He lets me take a pair to test drive. I get in my car, smiling like an excited dog following new smells and I turn on some music. A Mumford and Sons song comes on and I have what can only be described as an eargasm. The violin. I can hear the violin! I didn’t even know there was violin in this song!

I have high frequency hearing loss, so the higher pitch the sound, the less I can hear it. Harmonies became richer. I could hear the strings of the guitar. The fibers. Then some less exciting realizations came to me – like how those whispers probably weren’t that quiet, those sex noises must have been real loud, and those toots may not have been silent.


When I was younger, doctors said that I had premature hearing loss, but that sentence was never finished with, “and hearing aids could make a significant improvement on your life.”

So, my family and friends continued thinking of me as a “bad listener.” Which, I guess, technically, I was — but being called a bad listener hit me in the heart. To me, they were calling me self-absorbed and disinterested.

Most of the time I was trying. However, just trying to hear can make you seem like a jerk. Your face scrunches up, your eyebrows furrow, your neck cranes out — body language that reads negatively. So, after awhile, I stopped asking people to repeat themselves as often.

“What? Oh… you already repeated it twice, and if I ask once more, you’ll scream-repeat it at me angrily? Oh, um, yeah, no, I totally heard you.”

I asked Dr. Kirsch if I could pick his brain for this article and he enthusiastically agreed. While chatting, I told him about being called a bad listener. He paused, looked me in the eye and said, “But you’re a great listener.” My heart swelled.

He continued, “You are a great listener largely because you and others with hearing loss pay such close attention to body language and facial expressions which tell more than the words on their own.”

He told me about a lawyer he worked with. The lawyer worried that if people noticed his hearing aids in the courtroom, it would be perceived as a sign of weakness and inspire doubt.

Unfortunately, because of all the stigma, a lot of people who could use hearing aids don’t get them. As few as 1 in 5 people who have hearing loss actually do something about it.

My first week with hearing aids, I wore them to a beach house with some friends. They were all very happy for me, but I kept hearing this static. Something must be wrong with the hearing aids, I thought.

“There! Did anyone hear that?!”




Then my friend Sally goes, “Wait a second. Do you hear it right… now?”


Another moment passes, “And… now?”


“Sarah,” she says, “those are waves. You’re hearing the ocean.”

Later, I had a meeting with this guy. I had my hearing aids turned up so I wouldn’t miss anything, so they were even more susceptible to feedback. I hugged him goodbye, his ear covered mine, and my hearing aid made a high-pitched noise (like when a microphone gets in front of a speaker). The guy pulled back and looked at me weird.

“Oh, could you hear that, too?” I asked.

“Yeah, what was it?”

I said, “I – AM – A – ROBOT,” and did the robot.

I thought it was hilarious.

During our chat, I jokingly ask Dr. Kirsch when I should tell a date that I have hearing aids. He sweetly says that I should tell them around the time we start to really care for each other. That’s great advice.

As un-sexy as they may be at times, and even though my hearing loss isn’t as bad as most, hearing aids have changed my life. I believe that shamelessly showing your vulnerabilities can make you an even more likable person. Living honestly inspires others to live honestly.

That’s what Dr. Kirsch meant about being your authentic self. “You can’t fully communicate who you are when you can’t hear what people are saying to you. People won’t listen if they feel like they aren’t being heard.”

You strain to hear someone speak, you miss important words — and as entertaining your shriek may be at the time — you’re startled when you didn’t hear a friend walk in the room. You’re always on edge.

I hope this reaches people with hearing loss (I’m looking at you, dear friend in denial) and helps them in getting over the stigma and their hang-ups about looking old or handicapped; getting hearing aids can significantly improve your quality of life and how you communicate with the world. Also, if you want to stop being a pain in the butt to your loved ones, you’ll look into it.

Now, when I forget “my ears,” my friends notice. I’ll ask “What?” and they’ll say with a loving/scolding tone, “Are your ears in?”

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Psychology Effects of Hearing Loss in Teens

Teenager feels alone and sad in her life

Hearing loss is frequently associated with older folks. When we think of younger people and teens as being deaf or hard of hearing, we tend to assume they have been that way since birth. But that’s not always the case; children and teens can lose their hearing just as older people can, sometimes quite suddenly.

It is important to understand not only the causes of hearing loss, but also the serious issues that result. Hearing loss affects social interaction and emotional well-being, and only by appreciating these effects can friends, teachers, parents and other support figures help teens navigate the troubled times ahead. The below blog post discusses more root causes and the importance hearing has on our society.

What causes hearing loss in teens?
Hearing loss in teens can result from many factors, including congenital defects, ear infections, autoimmune diseases, blows to the head or exposure to loud noises. This is not a complete list, unfortunately; hearing loss can result from many other issues besides.1

Understanding levels of hearing loss
While we tend to think of people as either hearing or deaf, hearing is not an absolute sense. Rather, it exists on a scale.2 So while some teens may have no hearing ability whatsoever, others may have some. When hearing begins to fade, people first have trouble picking up softer noises, then louder ones. Teens may first lose their ability to hear low hums and birds chirping and then lose spoken words in a vacuum. Eventually, in full hearing loss, they cannot hear even loud noises such as helicopters or gunshots.

The cultural importance of hearing
Sadly, hearing is not only a valuable means of communication; it is also fraught with cultural importance. Not being able to hear causes teens to miss many social cues that other, hearing, teens rely on.

For instance, they may miss the physical characteristics of voice, different dialects, varying speech registers (the ways we speak in informal versus formal situations, or at work versus at home), and the internal or emotional states of the people around them.3 These are all crucial pieces of cultural information to which the deaf and hard of hearing do not have access.

Learning impacts of deafness from birth
Deafness from birth, especially when it comes to deaf teens born to hearing parents, comes with a price tag not attached to deaf teens born to deaf parents or hearing teens who later become deaf.4 This is because when children are able to interact with parents on a daily basis during their formative years – hearing children with hearing parents or deaf children with deaf parents – they benefit from crucial language interaction.

However, teens who were born deaf to hearing parents often suffer from a disconnect that results from being unable to communicate easily. Reading levels, memory, emotional adjustment and other aspects of life may suffer.

Emotional, social and educational results of hearing loss
Even if children are able to skip the often negative effects of early deafness, hearing loss of any type has huge impacts socially, emotionally and educationally.

Teens who experience hearing loss and can’t compensate for its effects often respond in typical ways: becoming confused, checking out, losing self-reliance, feeling isolated and losing their identity.5 This impacts their ability to engage in school, to form peer relationships, to be close to their families and to pursue their interests. Such issues can be hard to overcome, but with good communication, it’s possible.

Tips for communicating with the deaf and hard of hearing

It can be quite difficult to learn to communicate with deaf or hard of hearing teens if you have never learned sign language, especially if the onset of hearing loss is sudden. However, there are a number of steps that you can take to make communication easier.

Remember, hard-of-hearing teens will rely heavily on your facial and mouth movements, so give them a full view of your face, avoiding moving or fidgeting. Don’t exaggerate your words, because this distorts how you form them, and supplement the conversation with bodily and facial gestures as you normally would.6

Mitigating the psychological effects of teen hearing loss
Helping teens foster a sense of self that moves past the disability is important, as is helping them to establish an understanding community. Supporting their efforts to communicate is crucial, but offering space where needed is very important as well. Overall, it will take time and effort – on the teen’s part and on the part of his or her support team – to overcome the disability and learn to lead a full and natural life once more. But with understanding, love and help, teens can get there.

For more information on Hearing Loss in Teens, please visit

Cleaning Ears Without Damaging Them So Your Hearing Stays Intact

people, beauty, hearing and healthcare concept - face of beautiful woman touching her ear over blue background

Unlike washing your face or hair everyday, ears can be easy to forget about until they’re pretty waxy. If you’re officially at a point where your ears require a serious deep clean, read on for how to clean your ears without damaging them because it can be tricky! There’s no reason to worry, but you do want to be careful.

First and foremost, if you are still using cotton swabs to clean your ears, back away right now. The American Academy of Otolaryngology (ears, nose, and throat), released a statement that said, “Wax blockage is one of the most common causes of hearing loss. This is often caused by attempts to clean the ear with cotton swabs. Most cleaning attempts merely push the wax deeper into the ear canal, causing a blockage.” Yeah that’s right, cotton swabs could actually cause hearing loss. No freaking thank you!

As for how often to clean, Douglas Backous, M.D. told Huffington Post, “Ears really only need to be cleaned … if they feel full or you notice changes to your hearing that could be related to waxy buildup.” If these symptoms sound familiar, below are two of the safest and easiest ways to clean your ears at home. Of course, if things become painful, definitely go ahead and seek out a professional doctor.

Wash Cloth Rub

As shared in PopSugar, you can safely clean your outer ear by simply wetting a wash cloth with water (no soap!) and then gently rubbing around your ear. Don’t try to reach in too far, though.

Hydrogen PeroxideAnd Water Rinse

Another safe and effective method is mixing together equal parts water and hydrogen peroxide, and using a rubber bulb syringe (yes, like a turkey baster) to pour a bit of the mixture into your ear. Wait a few seconds, then flip your head over for the excess liquid to drain out.

Rubbing Alcohol And White Vinegar

If you don’t have hydrogen peroxide on hand, you can also safely mix rubbing alcohol and white vinegar together and follow the above instructions.

For more ways to clean your ears without damaging them, please

Researchers Discover Brain Reorganizes after Hearing Loss


Researchers exploring the ways in which our brains respond to hearing loss have found that the brain reorganizes, which may be related to a link between age-related hearing loss and dementia. According to a presentation at the 169th Meeting of the Acoustical Society of America (ASA), researchers from the University of Colorado suggest that the portion of the brain devoted to hearing can become reorganized—reassigned to other functions—even with early-stage hearing loss, and may play a role in cognitive decline.

According to a recent ASA announcement, Anu Sharma, PhD, a researcher in the Department of Speech Language and Hearing Science at University of Colorado, applied fundamental principles of neuroplasticity to determine how the brain adapts to hearing loss, as well as the consequences of those changes.

Sharma and colleagues in the Brain and Behavior Laboratory used electroencephalographic (EEG) recordings of adults and children with deafness and lesser hearing loss to gain insights into the ways their brains respond differently from those of people with normal hearing.

Sharma explained via the ASA announcement that EEG recordings involve placing multiple tiny sensors on the scalp, which allows researchers to measure brain activity in response to sound simulation. For her study, sound simulation, such as recorded speech syllables, was delivered via speakers to elicit a response in the form of “brain waves” that originate in the auditory cortex—the most important center for processing speech and language—and other areas of the brain.

“We can examine certain biomarkers of cortical functioning, which tell us how the hearing portion of a deaf person’s brain is functioning compared to a person with normal hearing,” Sharma said.

ASA reports that Sharma and other researchers have recently discovered that the areas of the brain responsible for processing vision or touch can recruit areas in which hearing is normally processed, but which receive little or no stimulation in deafness. This is called “cross-modal” cortical reorganization and reflects a fundamental property of the brain to compensate in response to its environment.

Studies conducted by Sharma and colleagues have also included cochlear implant patients.

“We find that this kind of compensatory adaptation may significantly decrease the brain’s available resources for processing sound and can affect a deaf patient’s ability to effectively perceive speech with their cochlear implants,” said Sharma.

Sharma’s group has demonstrated that charting brain functioning in patients with cochlear implants is a valuable tool to help predict their outcomes. “If a deaf child shows cross-modal reorganization—by vision, for example—it allows us to determine the optimal rehabilitation strategy for that particular child,” she said.

Sharma and her research team also reportedly made the discovery that cross-modal recruitment of the hearing portion of the brain by the senses of vision and touch happens not only in deaf patients, but is also clearly apparent in adult patients with only a mild degree of hearing loss.

“The hearing areas of the brain shrink in age-related hearing loss,” said Sharma. “Centers of the brain that are typically used for higher-level decision-making are then activated in just hearing sounds. These compensatory changes increase the overall load on the brains of aging adults. Compensatory brain reorganization secondary to hearing loss may also be a factor in explaining recent reports in the literature that show age-related hearing loss is significantly correlated with dementia.”

According to Sharma, this finding has important clinical implications for developing early screening programs for hearing loss in adults. The study results also suggest that age-related hearing loss must be taken seriously, even in its earliest stages.

“One in three adults over the age of 60 has age-related hearing loss,” Sharma said. “Given that even small degrees of hearing loss can cause secondary changes in the brain, hearing screenings for adults and intervention in the form of hearing aids should be considered much earlier to protect against reorganization of the brain.”

ASA reports that Sharma and colleagues will continue to explore fundamental aspects of neuroplasticity in deafness that may help improve outcomes for children and adults with hearing loss and deafness.

“Our goal is to develop user-friendly EEG technologies, to allow clinicians to easily ‘image’ the brains of individual patients with hearing loss to determine whether and to what degree their brains have become reorganized,” she said. “In this way, the blueprint of brain reorganization can guide clinical intervention for patients with hearing loss.”

For more information about your brain and hearing loss, please visit

How A Tiny Fly’s Ears Could Help You Hear Better

small insect in the green garden Thailand

Ormia ochracea is not a very likeable creature, even by fly standards.

This parasitic fly likes to leave its larvae on the backs of crickets. The larvae burrow inside the cricket and then proceed to eat the cricket alive.

But humans who have struggled with hearing loss might soon be thankful for at least one small part of this fly — its ears.

Ormia ochracea has developed very specialized ears that let it locate crickets by following the sound of their chirp. Scientists are using these ears as inspiration in developing microphones for the next generation of directional hearing aids.

“The thing that makes it very special is that the fly ear is so small,” says Neal Hall, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Texas. Hall and his team have developed a prototype of a microphone inspired by the Ormia ochracea ear, which was published Tuesday in Applied Physics Letters.

Humans have large noggins, says Hall, and these big heads of ours to help us figure out which direction a sound is coming from.

“We have a significant separation between our ears,” he explains, “so sound arrives at one ear just a split second before the other. Our brain … looks at those very minute differences in time of arrival to locate the object.”

But the fly head is tiny – its ears are separated by only a millimeter, which is about the thickness of the average fingernail – so sound arrives at both ears at almost the exact same time.

To overcome the limits of its itsy-bitsy head, the fly has evolved a special way of hearing: Its two eardrums are connected by a small rigid structure that behaves like a teeter-totter, and this teeter-totter amplifies very small differences in the arrival time of sound.

“It’s like having two microphones in one that are linked together by this teeter-totter,” says Hall.

The teeter-totter mechanism in the fly ear was first explained by mechanical engineer Ronald Miles and neurobiologist Ronald Hoy in 1995 – NPR’s Morning Edition even featured a segment on the discovery way back in 1999.

Since then, a number of scientists have strived to create tiny, man-made microphones that mimic the teeter-totter mechanism in the fly ear. Within the past year, teams lead by Ronald Miles at Binghampton University and Miao Yu at the University of Maryland have also published directional microphone prototypes inspired by the Ormia ochracea.

Hall says that in his microphone, the motion of the teeter-totter is detected using a special type of material that emits an electrical signal when it changes shape. This approach is not as sensitive to direction as some of the other approaches, but it may be simpler and more energy efficient.

“We’ve made a big leap forward in terms of reducing power consumption and the readiness of the technology to make an impact,” he says.

Of course, most people aren’t interested in chasing down crickets to feed to their kids for dinner. But these fly-inspired microphones could be applied to a number of more human endeavors – smartphones, defense tracking – or directional hearing aids.

“The number one complaint of hearing aid users is that they cannot hear in noise,” says Ruth Bentler, who studies the effectiveness of directional hearing aids at the University of Iowa. “As soon as you have any degree of hearing loss and you walk into a crowded restaurant, it becomes difficult to hear speech.”

Bentler says the solution for many is directional hearing aids, which use one or more microphones to cancel out noise coming from the side or from the back of the head. These hearing aids are “designed to be more sensitive to noises coming from the ‘look’ direction,” she says.

“The teetering mechanism has some significant design advantages over how one would normally try to implement a directional hearing system,” says Hall. Using a single teeter-totter mechanism could reduce power consumption – which is always an issue in battery-powered hearing aids – and help them maintain calibration over time.

But even though scientists are getting close to replicating the capabilities of Ormia ochracea’s ears, Hall says he’s still impressed at the capability of this little fly.

“It is the equivalent of if you were just standing on the ground and all of a sudden the ground starts shaking because there was an earthquake, and I told you I can tell just by my feet that the epicenter of the earthquake was in Costa Rica,” Hall says. “The fly does something equally remarkable in locating sound given the proximity of its ears.”

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