Dr Louise R Newson BSc(Hons) MBChB(Hons) MRCP FRCGP
My husband Paul and I first met 27 years ago when we were both medical students in Manchester University. He always struggled to hear in some of the very loud nightclubs and bars we all went to but I did not think this was anything unusual. I now work as a GP and he is a Consultant Urological Surgeon in Birmingham.
Over the past decade, his hearing loss gradually worsened. I persuaded him to see an audiologist over ten years ago who told him that he would benefit from a hearing aid. He was 35 years old and categorically stated that he would never wear hearing aids, as “after all, they are for old people, not for young men like me”. His grandfather wore hearing aids but they never worked well as he spent much of any conversation saying “pardon” so Paul’s view was that hearing aids were a complete waste of time anyway.
As our daughters grew up, they started to comment how their father could not hear very well. He often misinterpreted what they told him, as he would try to guess the words that they were saying, especially if he was in another room or not looking directly at them. He stopped joining in with conversations in the car, as this was one of the worst places for him to hear.
So five years ago I arranged for him to see a different audiologist. His hearing loss had worsened. Yet again Paul resisted the option of having hearing aids.
The Effects of Untreated Hearing Loss
Since that time, we had also noticed how his hearing loss affected him. He became more withdrawn and less sociable when we went out for dinner where there was a high amount of background noise. Nurses often commented in the operating theatre that he could not hear them when they asked him a question behind their theatre masks. I often observed him talking to friends and getting closer and closer to them, usually invading their personal space and tilting his head to his right side (his right ear hears better than his left ear).
My mother commented that Paul was less friendly and avoided talking to her. Other friends echoed these opinions.
So eighteen months ago I persuaded Paul to see a different audiologist. Third time lucky! He was persuaded to give hearing aids a trial. I was so excited about this as I have known many patients over the years whose lives have been really transformed with hearing aids.
The first few days of Paul wearing hearing aids were nothing like I expected. He felt sick, had constant headaches and hated the sound of his own voice. He even stopped listening to some of this favourite music, as it sounded so different to what he had been used to. He felt really fed up and despondent.
Thankfully he persevered and has since tolerated several adjustments with his audiologist. The difference has been overwhelming to him, our family, his colleagues and our friends. He no longer avoids invitations to parties, he enjoys going out to busy restaurants and is generally much more sociable.
Hearing Loss Stigma and Access
He has worn glasses for many years and there really is no stigma associated with wearing glasses. Wearing hearing aids is very different. He does not like putting them in every day and has only recently told colleagues and close friends that he wears hearing aids.
He works as one of the surgeons on Channel 4’s Embarrassing Bodies and has worn his hearing aids throughout filming, even for some very close camera shots of him. Even his audiologist struggled to see his hearing aids.
This personal experience of hearing loss has taught me so much as a doctor. Firstly, it is so important to encourage people to have a hearing test if their friends and family are concerned they may not be hearing properly. Secondly, hearing aids are certainly not just for elderly people and also the stigma associated with hearing aids needs to be reduced. Hearing loss is under diagnosed and ignored by too many people.
Louise qualified from Manchester University in 1994 and works as a part-time salaried GP in the West Midlands. She has authored several books on evidence-based medicine for general practice, contributed to numerous other books for GPs and GPs in training and is a writer for both patient.info and the RCGPs. She has a special clinical interest in helping patients manage menopause and runs the http://menopausedoctor.co.uk/ website.