Update on hearing aids

Short version: I had a hearing test and a hearing-aid consultation yesterday; they both went fine; I hope to be getting hearing aids in November.

My overall impression is that the process of getting hearing aids is (a) super slow, (b) super expensive, and (c) hard to get information about. At least at PAMF.

Long version follows.

Some backstory

  • It has become clear in the past year-plus that I need hearing aids. (I have Bose over-the-counter hearing aids, which help some, but I would like something better, which means prescription hearing aids, which means talking with doctors about it.)
  • I had a hearing test a year ago. (Side note: That was for tinnitus reasons; I wasn’t allowed to see a doctor about tinnitus without getting a hearing test first. The hearing test was interesting, and I liked the audiologist who administered it; but the tinnitus appointment right after that was with a different doctor, and that tinnitus doctor was really annoying in several ways. In the end, he basically said “yup, you have tinnitus, stop listening to loud music” (I don’t listen to loud music), and sent me on my way.)
  • I had an appointment for a hearing aid consultation twice earlier this year, but both times had to cancel for complicated reasons. Each time, when I rescheduled, the next available appointment was four months later.
  • Because it’s been more than six months since my last hearing test, I had to get another hearing test before I could do the consultation. So yesterday afternoon I had another test, followed by the consultation.
  • Fortunately, I still have COBRA, so my insurance still covers this stuff.


An audiologist did my hearing test, which was largely like the one a year ago. But they gave me even less of an explanation of what was going on and why and what the results meant. (And some of what they said seemed to assume that I knew more about the science of hearing than I did.)

But the main big-picture results were:

  • My hearing loss is slightly (though not very) asymmetrical; my hearing is a bit better in the left ear than the right ear. I wouldn’t have thought that was unusual, much less a problem, but apparently it’s not good.
  • My hearing loss at high frequencies is fairly severe.
  • I’m therefore a good candidate for hearing aids.
  • My lower-frequency hearing is still fine, so I should get hearing aids that allow my ears to process the lower pitches naturally. (I was a little unclear on this part.)

So I continued on to my hearing-aid consultation. The doctor this time was much less obnoxious than the doctor I saw for the tinnitus appointment a year ago. (I specifically requested not to see that doctor again.) But it gradually became clear that yesterday’s hearing-aid-consultation doctor was basically there to give me an hour-long sales pitch for hearing aids. Like (paraphrased version of what they said):

~“Here are the two main kinds: in-ear and behind-ear. In-ear is worse, and behind-ear is better. Oh, you want behind-ear? OK, here are the three main brands. There isn’t a huge difference among them, but here’s what each of them focuses on. Oh, you want this one? Then here are the five price/quality levels in that brand, and here’s a list of the three things that the top-quality/top-price one does better than the second-level one. Oh, you want that top-quality one? OK, here are three accessories that you can buy to go with that. Oh, you want two of those accessories? OK, here are the colors you can choose among.”~

It’s certainly possible that the doctor meant that presentation to be neutral and not nudging me toward anything in particular. (And not all of the recommendations were for the more expensive options.) But it did feel kinda sales-pitchy to me. And I felt a little weird about taking an hour of a doctor’s time going over this decision, when (a) I haven’t been able to get that much of a doctor’s time for anything else in the past couple years, and (b) I could just as easily, and more happily, have spent that time reading info on my own and selecting from a catalog or website rather than having the doctor tell me the same things a catalog would have said. (It didn’t help that the doctor spoke a little too loudly. I imagine they’re used to interacting with patients who have more severe hearing loss than mine; and better too loudly than too quietly, certainly. But it made me wish I was on a call with them so I could turn down the volume.)

But I didn’t feel especially pressured; most of the choices were pretty straightforward for my situation and needs.

So that was yesterday’s appointments.

Next steps

The next step is to schedule a hearing-aid fitting. But it turns out you can’t have a useful fitting with wax built up in your ears, and I do currently have wax built up in my ears, because nobody told me that I should get the wax removed before I had these appointments, and it didn’t occur to me. (Luckily for me, the wax doesn’t yet completely cover my eardrums; presumably if it had covered my eardrums, they wouldn’t have been able to do yesterday’s tests, and I would’ve had to reschedule for yet another 4 months in the future.) Every couple of years, I go in to see a doctor and get a jet of water directed into each ear, which has always cleaned out the wax. (I’ve tried home treatments, too; most of them haven’t helped, and one of them resulted in an ear infection at one point. One approach does work pretty well, but I haven’t used it in a while.) Yesterday, both the audiologist and hearing-aid-consultant doctor told me pretty firmly that it’s much better to have an ENT do the earwax removal, because they suction it out rather than just jetting water at it. Which, OK, fine, but (a) in the 20+ years that I’ve been having earwax removed, nobody has ever mentioned that to me before; and (b) it turns out that the next available ENT appointment isn’t until mid-November. But they were very firm that the ENT version is much better and more likely to work, so I’ll go with that.

So the plan is:

  • Today: I call my insurance and make absolutely certain that they’ll cover 90% of the cost of the hearing aids, ’cause if they won’t, then I’ll change my plans.
  • Mid-November: I get the wax removed from my ears.
  • A couple days later: I have the hearing aids fitted. I think that means I take them home with me that day (after the fitting), but I’m not sure. And then I wear them for 10-14 hours a day for a couple weeks, to get used to them.
  • A couple weeks after that: I come back for a followup checkin.

This schedule means that I’ll have to continue COBRA for a couple months longer than I had vaguely intended to, but I think it’ll still save me a significant amount of money. We’ll see.

Two side notes:

  • After the second appointment was over, I made the appointments for the fitting and the followup session, which was a weirdly time-consuming process. The doctor had handed me a little paper form that said I needed two appointments, two weeks apart, after mid-November; I handed that paper to the scheduling person at the front desk; after several minutes of silently working on their computer, they finally said the best they could do was an appointment in October. I said it has to be after November 14. They spent a few more minutes on it, and then found me an appointment in December—with the audiologist who had just done my hearing test. I said aren’t I supposed to be meeting with the other doctor? We went back and forth on that three or four times, and then it turned out that the scheduling person thought that I was trying to schedule a hearing test and a hearing aid consultation. I explained that I had just had those, and that I was trying to schedule a fitting and a followup, and they found me appointments on appropriate days with the right doctor, and all was well.
  • When it came time to choose a color for the hearing aid, the doctor told me that since I have long hair, it should match my hair color. I said I might be cutting my hair short soon. They asked how short. After some further discussion, they ended up saying that it would be good to match my hair color regardless. They asked if I wanted the dark brown or the black; I said I’m partly color-blind and couldn’t really tell the difference between the two samples they were showing me; they held them up to my hair and recommended the brown, so I said sure. But the main reason I’m mentioning this is that they then checked a hair-color box on a form, and the box was labeled “chestnut,” and it had never occurred to me to describe my hair color as “chestnut.” I found that label really pleasing for some reason. Possibly because of a Nanci Griffith song in which the protagonist is described as having chestnut hair. Anyway, I looked up chestnut hair later and found that there’s more to it than just dark brown, so it’s probably not really my hair color. (I suspect that in this context, it’s just the hearing-aid company’s fancy name for their brown color.) But I thought it was an interesting moment.

2 Responses to “Update on hearing aids”

  1. irilyth

    I’ve had earwax removed a couple of times over the years, usually by the water method, but most recently at both my GP and an ENT (when I got an ear infection) with various tools, including a plastic curette and some forceps type things. The ENT in particular went after the wax fairly aggressively, and the process was much more uncomfortable than usual, but felt very thorough.

    Anyway, I mentioned that mostly by way of warning that an ENT may really go after it, with tools that are harder than a water sprayer thinger. (Based on my sample size of one. :^ )

  2. Jeremy

    Just wondering if you asked or they volunteered whether any of the hearing attenuation could be due to the wax build-up?


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