Charlie Swinbourne: The 10 most annoying things about hearing aids

Posted on January 7, 2017



I’ve been wearing hearing aids, day in and day out, since I was about two. I still remember my mum putting them on, and how I hated the feel of them in my ears at first.

My hatred was such that I put them down the toilet. Only mum’s quick reactions, quite a lot of disinfectant and being put on a radiator to dry saved them.

Now, about 33 years later, my ears feel empty (and chilly) when I don’t wear them. They’ve been my constant companion, for better or worse, through everything that’s ever happened to me.

I love them, in a way. But I also find them annoying. Here’s how…

1.When they whistle

Hearing aids often whistle, and not because they’ve seen another attractive hearing aid they’d like to mate with (unlike say, builders).

What happens is that sound escapes from our earmolds, feeding back into the same microphone that is picking up the sounds around us, creating a feedback loop, resulting in a PIERCING WHISTLE which sounds a bit like the noise a bus makes when it brakes.

It can happen at any time.

Which is why, mid-conversation, I can find myself suddenly resisting the urge to make a face like this one:

screen-shot-2016-11-22-at-13-30-33

2. The wax

Earwax is a pretty grim thing, overall. So please bear with me, I’ll get this part over with as fast as I can.

Putting a piece of silicon in your ear every day is probably not the most natural thing to do. I don’t think our ears thank us for it.

Earmolds reduce airflow and increase the chances of getting an ear infection. They also mean that we tend to build up wax. Which isn’t nice.

As disgusting as wax is, I think us Deafies have become used to wax, desensitised to it. We blow it out of the tubes in our hearing aids when they’re blocked without a second thought. We sniff it. Some (not me) have even been know to (ugh) taste it.

When it does build up to mamouth levels, there’s something hugely liberating about getting rid of it once and for all.

Which might be why this article on the joy of having my ears syringed remains one of the most popular articles on this site.

3. The background noise

Hearing aids just aren’t like ‘normal’ hearing (whatever that is).

They tend to amplify everything, diminishing the ability to pick sounds (and more importantly, voices) out, which non-deaf people seem to be able to do with ease.

This makes noisy environments not only hard to communicate in, but also, really really LOUD AND CHAOTIC. Which makes your brain feel like exploding.

This is the thing that annoys me the most. So I’m sorry this bit isn’t funnier, but this bit doesn’t feel all that jovial to me.

4. The way they look

I’m proud to wear my hearing aids. BUT…

NHS hearing aids tend to come in beige. Lately, they are often also found in silver or brown. Rarely, they’re available in other colours.

Meaning us deaf folk often look a few years behind, fashion-wise.

Which is why some deaf people have started decorating them – or as they like to say, ‘pimping them.’ (Which doesn’t mean they’re selling their hearing aids for set periods of time for the, ahem, gratification of others. It means they’re decorating them. Just so you know.)

Like the ones below:

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5. When batteries run out

Hearing aid batteries always run out at the worst possible time.

For me, it was during a weekend away with hearing friends. Worst of all, not just one, but both of them ran out within just a few hours of one another.

Which made a hard situation, communication-wise, even harder.

Although this did lead to me doing two things to reduce the risk of this happening again.

Firstly – I now remember (more often at least) to take fresh batteries with me everywhere.

Second, I change the batteries a few days apart, so there’s less risk of them running out simultaneously.

6. When they get wet 

I’ve already mentioned how I put my hearing aids down the loo when I was two. But there’s more.

I’ve got in the shower wearing them. That wasn’t so bad, because I quickly jumped out again, minimising the damage.

Worse was the time I jumped in a swimming pool while wearing them.

Miraculously, they dried and survived.

After making some really weird noises underwater.

7. When a dog eats them

I now have a seven month old puppy, who luckily hasn’t gone near my hearing aids (so far).

But I was traumatised for life nearly ten years ago when my sister in law’s dog Scruffy decided to make pedigree chum out of my plastic pals.

Here’s a pic of Scruffy eating them (yes, being a journalist I took a photo of it before I removed them. It was the professional thing to do).

screen-shot-2016-11-22-at-13-58-18

And here’s the article for BBC Ouch I wrote about it.

8. When they get hit during sport

Just the thought of this one makes me grimace.

Because it’s so painful.

I still remember icy winter mornings when I was warming up to play football for my local team, as a kid. When out of the blue, a huge great big football, whacked by a teammate, would smack against the side of my head.

Hitting my hearing aid a millisecond before it hit the rest of my head. Concentrating the full pressure of the ball into that small area of plastic behind my ear.

Pinching the life out of my ear.

Making my skull ache.

Sending me run into my mother’s arms, crying, in front of all my friends.

Which is painful, and worse, far from cool.

9. Losing them

I don’t lose my hearing aids much nowadays, but when I do, they really really get lost.

And all it takes to lose them is putting them somewhere unfamiliar. Somewhere I don’t usually leave them.

It might be a drawer.

It might be on a windowsill, just out of sight behind a curtain.

It might be in the pocket of a rucksack.

But nothing, nothing at all, can happen until they are found.

10. When they change 

This is something deaf people struggle with most of all. Changing hearing aids.

What people don’t realise is that each time you change to a new type of hearing aids, your brain has to learn to make sense of the new sound all over again.

I still feel my current pair aren’t as good as the pair I wore for about five years, but wasn’t supported in the area I moved to four years ago (so the NHS couldn’t repair them).

And many deaf people still say they wish they could go back to their old analogue (rather than digital) hearing aids, which they spent most of their lives wearing before being told there was a ‘better’ option.

For me, changing from analogue to digital meant three months of pain, during which my work and my mood suffered greatly, before things started to make any kind of sense again.

If you want to know more, read Karen Stockton’s great article about it.

What annoys you about your hearing aids? Tell us below.

Charlie is the editor of Limping Chicken, as well as being an award-winning filmmaker. He directed the comedies The Kiss and Four Deaf Yorkshiremen go to Blackpool, and three instalments of the documentary series Found. As a journalist, he has written for the Guardian and BBC Online, and he is currently working on a new two-part comedy programme.

The Limping Chicken is the UK’s deaf blogs and news website, and is the world’s most popular deaf blog. It is edited by Deaf journalist and filmmaker Charlie Swinbourne.

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