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A new world with Phonak CROS B-R hearing aids

I’ve spent my whole life living with single-sided deafness.

It’s a frustrating part of ‘being me’ that I learned to live with. one day, not so long ago, a colleague asked me whether I’d heard of Phonak Cros B-R and proceeded to tell me about these hearing aids that have been designed specifically to help people with single-sided hearing loss.

To be honest, at first, I was certain they’d got it wrong, that that just wasn’t ‘a thing’. Surely a doctor, any of the doctors I’d seen over the course of my entire life to date, would have mentioned this to me? Well, apparently not. A quick bit of Googling confirmed that my colleague was in fact right. Hearing aids for people with single-sided hearing loss is totally ‘A Thing.’

The start to finding Phonak CROS B-R

The Phonak CROS system has been around for a little while but the CROS B-R is the shiny new rechargeable solution. This sounds perfect for someone like me who leads a pretty busy on-the-go lifestyle. The breakfast bar wrappers jammed in the door pockets of my car can confirm this.

I had a lot of questions and reservations about this solution. Life tends to serve up a series of disappointments (like Star Wars episodes I, II and III, and the demise of the pink grapefruit Calippo.) This helps you develop an ‘optimistically pessimistic’ view of things whereby you assume the absolute worst case scenario of any given situation. That way, if the worst does happen, you are completely prepared for it. But if by some stroke of luck, what happens is any slight improvement on the worst, then it’s time to do a happy dance.

In this instance, my worst-case scenario was that the hearing aids would be uncomfortable to wear and would also feel flimsy like they might just fall off at any given moment. I was also concerned about other aspects such as, would they look okay? What would it be like to ‘hear’ sound from my deaf side? How would my brain cope with that? (I mean, some days I can’t even remember where I’ve put my phone, despite having it in my hand a few minutes earlier. I wasn’t feeling all that confident in my brain being like “We cool girl, I got this.”)

With my ‘grey-tinted’ spectacles on, I knew that getting these hearing aids was not going to be the like someone waving a magic wand and ‘fixing it.’ Regardless, there was so much to be gained from the possibility of picking up sound from my deaf side. I absolutely had to explore this.

Making way to the audiologist

The first step was to book an appointment with an audiologist to do some initial tests and ultimately the fitting. I went to see Tara of Tripp Hearing in Witney, Oxfordshire. Tara was great and talked me through all aspects of the hearing aids and how they would work. Essentially one hearing aid (to go behind my deaf ear) would act like a microphone and that sound would then be transmitted wirelessly to the hearing aid on my hearing hear. This would essentially be giving me, for the first time in my life, ‘surround sound’.

“…that sound would then be transmitted wirelessly to the hearing aid on my hearing hear, essentially be giving me, for the first time in my life, ‘surround sound’.”

We did a few standard hearing tests. First, we did the good old ‘click when you hear the beep’ as well as some I’d never done before. There was one where I had to listen to and repeat a sentence that was said while there was lots of background noise playing. I must admit, that one was pretty challenging!

One of my favorite parts of the fitting was when Tara put a camera in my ear. I could actually watch it onscreen – amazing! Never had I actually seen the inside of an ear before that moment. I was incredibly surprised that my ear was just a very simple little ‘room’ and not the deep, dark, labyrinthine jungle I had envisaged (I have definitely watched too many YouTube videos of people finding spiders in their ears).

Tara also did a pressure test to see if my eardrums were perforated. As the camera showed I had a thin area on each of my eardrums, most likely from where I had grommets when I was a child. I was previously told by a doctor that I had perforations in both ears. I was a bit anxious about the pressure test and was quite worried it was going to hurt/be unpleasant.

It actually was completely fine, I didn’t feel a thing. Amazingly, the test showed that both my eardrums were intact, so I was really happy about that. Either the perforations that were there previously had healed or they were just misdiagnosed in the first place. Regardless, it was good news for me.

The hearing aid fitting!

After all the testing was done, we got on to the bit that I was most excited/anxious about; the fitting itself. Tara got out my hearing aids and I was amazed by how small they were. They were nothing like the big, boxy cumbersome things I’d seen people’s grandparents wear. These were sleek and compact.

I’d chosen them in a black color. There was the option of having ‘nude’ colored ones for an even more discreet look. Nude-colored ones would be pointless for me as my pillarbox red dyed hair would turn them bright pink within a couple of days!

I put the hearing aids on, which was a little fiddly at first but after a few tries, it was easy. The hearing aids impressed me with how weightless they felt and apart from the retainer clips (which were helping to make them secure) I couldn’t feel them at all.

Tara then started setting them up and it was just the craziest thing when she switched them on. It was like the sound around me was somehow expanded, everything sounded ‘wider.’ It was a little overwhelming at first but very exciting. Frankly, I couldn’t wait to start experiencing all those situations that normally are annoying to be in with single-sided deafness. I couldn’t wait to see how these situations might be improved with these hearing aids. A very good and exciting start. I was certain there would be some challenges/learning curves along the way, but I was so ready to get started on this new journey.

“It was like the sound around me was somehow expanded, everything sounded ‘wider.'”

Real world hearing aid testing

I had a little ‘test run’ outside the hearing center. As I walked down the road wearing my new hearing aids, I kept feeling these little rushes of excitement as I heard sounds coming from all directions. A woman in high heels walked past my deaf side and I could clearly hear the ‘clip-clop’ of her shoes. A car drove up behind me and I didn’t jump out my skin because I could hear it coming, a jazz band played up the street and I could hear it regardless of which direction I was walking in.

“A woman in high heels walked past my deaf side and I could clearly hear the ‘clip clop’ of her shoes.”

Driving home, I started listening to one of my Spotify playlists.  I smiled as my worry that music might sound ‘weird’ through my hearing aids disappeared. Instead, it had that amazing ‘wide’ quality to it. It sounded like I was suddenly getting the full picture for the first time in my life. The track in question was Slayer’s Angel of Death, so it was a pretty intense tune to experience this realization too! As I was singing/screaming along, I could notice my voice also had this ‘wideness.’ It was like I was hearing myself properly for the first time. Thankfully it wasn’t awful like when you hear your own voice back on recordings.

Tuning up the hearing aids

A few weeks on, the ‘wideness’ started to go.

Tara had mentioned I would need to come back after the first set up, to have the hearing aids retuned. She said there’d be an initial period of my ears getting used to the hearing aids. After that initial period, things would need to be tweaked.

This time, I went to see Brian Eccles of Brian Eccles Hearing in Kettering as it was much closer for me. Brian was amazing! He ran through a few tests and then got to work by adjusting the settings and almost instantly.

That wonderful ‘wideness’ was back again and I’ve been enjoying the hearing aids ever since. I’d also started to find the retainer clips quite uncomfortable, so Brian removed these for me. It was embarrassing to discover I could easily do this myself but I was too scared to start yanking things off my lovely new hearing aids.

“That wonderful ‘wideness’ was back again and I’ve been enjoying the hearing aids ever since.”

I actually found the hearing aids felt secure enough on their own. Although, I have bought a retainer cord with some silicone loops that attach to the hearing aids so I can make them more secure for when I find myself in more rowdy/boisterous environments (bring on the Slayer gig in November!)

One of the coolest things Brian set up for me was a volume adjustment function. I can turn the sound up by pressing the button on my right hearing aid. Similarly, I can turn it down by pressing the button on the left hearing aid. You would think that someone who has waited their whole life for All The Sound would have no need for the ‘volume down’ button. But when I was in a supermarket later that same day and a small child had a meltdown (her mum wouldn’t let her lick the bread on the shelves…) I was really thankful to be able to turn the sound down.

Learn more about the Phonak CROS here!

I was born with single-sided deafness (in my right ear) and am currently a user of Phonak CROS B-R hearing aids. I love cats, gin, music and films. I seemed to have earned the nickname Ariel/Little Mermaid due to my long red hair. This pleases me immensely. Mermaids4life.