Tuesday, December 28, 2010

How Much Do You Hear?

When people find out that I'm hard of hearing I often get asked how much I actually can hear. What usually follows is a long, confusing explanation of the nature of my hearing loss.  What makes my hearing loss weird, frustrating, confusing, and sometimes wonderful, is the fact that it is a fluctuating loss.  That means exactly how it sounds.  It changes.  Below I'm going to post some pictures to explain it better.
In addition to an organic hearing loss (what I explained above) I have a central auditory processing disorder (CAPD).  The CAPD basically means that my brain doesn't always know what to do with sound.  Getting it through my ears is only part of the problem.  I might be able to hear an alarm going off, but my brain won't necessarily realize that it is an alarm.  If a sound (music, voice, etc) is coming from one location, I won't likely be able to identify the direction it is coming from. My siblings used to take advantage of this in a rather cruel, but humorous game...we had a portable telephone that they liked to hide.  Then they would push the "find" button on the base to make the handset ring and I would have to located the phone just using my ears.  They enjoyed it and if I was in a good mood, I enjoyed it too, just because I was so bad at it.
In addition to bilateral (that means one for each ear) hearing aids, I rely largely on visual input (lip reading, the written word, sign language, flashing lights), since my brain knows how to process that much better. So if you tell me something on the phone, even though I hear you in the most basic sense of the word, I'm much less likely to know what you said than if you e-mailed me.  Likewise, if I only hear your name, I'm more likely to forget it than if I saw it on a name tag or saw it signed.  If my signal light flashes I'm more likely to realize that it's time to get up and get ready for class than if an alarm clock simply rang.
Now for some pictures.

This is an audiogram...actually it's a composition of two audiograms thanks to the wonderful audiogram creator on this site that let me enter data from two of my audiograms.  The numbers on the vertical axis are numbers that represent loudness.  The bigger the number, the louder the sound.  The numbers on the horizontal axis represent frequency.  I think that has to do with lowness/highness of sounds.  The blue lines and "x" marks are my left ear, the red markings and "o" markings are my right ear.  The two lines on top are from one audiogram (on a relatively good day) and the bottom ones are from an audiogram on a less good day. 
This is another version of the same two audiograms as above, but this time with pictures.  The template was found on this site. Anything that is above the red and blue lines is sounds that I am not likely to hear without my hearing aids in.  My aids are set mostly in relation to better days (the top set of lines) since I have more better days than bad days (at least as far as we can tell without doing audiograms daily), so on a less good day (the bottom lines), even with my aids in I'm not going to get much better than the top set of lines.  This means, that on a less good day, even with my aids in, I'm likely to have trouble with hearing conversations or lectures. 
These are my hearing aids.  The clear one goes in my right ear and the other one goes in my left ear.  On better days they bring my hearing almost to a normal level, but they can't do anything for the CAPD, so even with them in I tend to rely largely on visual input for comprehension.
I also just got fitted swim plugs to keep the water out of my ears when I swim.  Because my ear canals are funny shaped, water would get in and get stuck in there and I'd get ear infections almost every week.  Now that I have these I shouldn't get near as many ear infections. :)

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