My Experience With the BAHA (Bone-Anchored Hearing Aid) for Profound Unilateral Deafness
There are a few different hearing aids available for unilateral deafness that are all based on the same principal. They are contralateral routing of signals (CROS) hearing aids, and they essentially take the sound from the deaf side and transfer it to the normal side through a variety of methods. I will be discussing the BAHA transcranial CROS, which works through bone conduction by way of a surgically implanted anchor. The hearing aid, itself, snaps onto the anchor and transmits the sound vibration to the normal ear through direct bone conduction.
I chose the BAHA because, to my knowledge, it was the only available option at the time (2002-2003). I was in my early twenties, and my hearing impairment had always bothered and embarrassed me—mostly because of the challenges that came along with it. If I didn't hear someone, which happened often, they thought I was rude. It is impossible for me to determine the direction a sound is coming from, so I often look in the wrong direction when someone calls me and then turn slowly in a circle until I see them. Noisy environments are also a nightmare for me because it is not possible for me to filter out background noise and focus on a person speaking. I typically only catch about ¼ of the conversation. I cannot hear stereo or surround sound. I also tend to speak loudly, especially in noisy situations, because I am not able to perceive the volume of my own voice as compared to those around me. All of these issues lead me to seek out a solution and the only option was the BAHA.
Now, this was a very big deal for me because not only did it require surgery to implant the anchor, but it was also not covered by insurance and was quite costly. I spent over a year researching tirelessly, including countless hours on an online BAHA forum. I spoke to anyone and everyone I could find who had the BAHA for profound unilateral deafness, and who would put up with my incessant questions. Keep in mind, this was 2002 and the internet was much newer then, so I didn't find many of them. It was the hardest decision of my life.
I was able to try it in advance by wearing the hearing aid on a very tight, metal headband that pressed it against my skull. I noticed virtually no difference from my normal hearing because the sound vibration was also going through my hair, skin, and underlying tissue. So I didn't find the test run helpful at all. I almost backed out but there was one thing I couldn't get out of my mind: What if. What if this is the holy grail? What if this allows me to lead a more normal life? What if this gives me the confidence I so desperately seek? So I pulled the trigger.
I had outpatient surgery on St. Patrick's Day, 2003. They permanently removed some hair—about one square inch or so—and placed the anchor (which I affectionately call my Frankenstein bolt) in the middle of the bald patch. It had to heal for several weeks before I could snap the hearing aid on and try it out. When the day finally came I sat in the doctor's office, snapped it in place, and turned it on. The first thing I did was plug my good ear and...I could still hear! It was incredible, to say the least. The sound was a bit hollow as if it were coming through an old junky speaker, and there was plenty of white noise, but I could actually hear sound from my deaf side for the first time in my life.
I couldn't use it much in the beginning because it made me feel as though I had motion sickness—that nauseous type of headache and a little dizziness. So, I eased into it. One of my favorite things to do as I was adjusting to the BAHA was to lay on my good ear and watch TV; listening through my deaf side. I was awestruck, excited, and very hopeful.
Once I adjusted and stopped feeling sick from it, I wore it daily and in all types of situations. I discovered that if I touched the hearing aid at all, or even tilted my head too far, it would cause feedback that everyone around me could hear. So I experienced a different kind of embarrassment. The BAHA is strange sort of thing that shocks and weirds people out, so I had hoped to keep it hidden under my hair, but the constant feedback made that impossible.
I gradually learned what situations were ideal for the BAHA and which weren't. The world is much noisier than I ever knew and the sound overload is something I never fully adjusted to. I found myself turning it off in noisy situations because it made things worse; the exact situations I needed the most help with. It was a devastating realization, and the moment I knew I had made a mistake.
I continued using the BAHA but only found it helpful in very specific situations. I worked in a quiet office and the constant white noise coming from it drove me nuts. I still wore it but I kept it turned off for the majority of the day. The only time I found it to be useful was in meetings—when I was a passenger in a vehicle—or any other time I had someone sitting to my left in a quiet environment. I used it less and less over the course of the next seven years. It got to the point where I wouldn't even bring it with me unless I had a meeting. I stopped using it in vehicles because it was quiet enough to hear without it. I stopped using it in other quiet situations because I had matured a bit and was no longer embarrassed about of my condition. I wasn't afraid to say, “Hey, I'm deaf in this ear; please sit on the other side” or, “I'm deaf on this side, so if you say something and I don't respond, I'm not ignoring you.”
"It was a devastating realization, and the moment I knew I had made a mistake."
In 2010, I had my first child, returned to work, lost my father unexpectedly, and moved into a new home...life got hectic. My work hours were reduced from full to part-time, and I was no longer required to attend the large public meetings that the BAHA was so helpful for. My meetings were mostly small and held in a quiet room. It was around that time that I stopped wearing the BAHA entirely.
I often feel guilty for not using it. My father always told me if I found something that would help, he would gladly pay for it...so he did. Since it was not covered by insurance it cost over $12,000. I had never asked my father for anything in my life, so it was extremely difficult for me to approach him about it. I assured him that I was certain I was making the right decision, based on my year of in-depth research. My family was excited and nervous right along with me. They were very supportive of my decision. Of course, I had no way of knowing that it wouldn't work out for me, despite my due diligence. No one has ever been angry or upset with me; quite the contrary. However, I tend to be very hard on myself.
So, is the BAHA right for me? No. Is it right for some others? Absolutely! I have spoken with many people who are thrilled with their BAHA. It has given them a new lease on life and is everything they hoped for. Everyone is different. So, if you are considering the BAHA for yourself or a loved one, please research it very thoroughly. Talk to as many people as you can who have the same type of hearing loss as you; this is very important. Ask as many questions as you can. Talk to your doctor about all of your options. The BAHA may be the solution you've been hoping for.
- The Baha System: Bone Conduction Hearing Implants | Cochlear
The Baha System uses bone conduction to send sound directly to your healthy inner ear. Learn more about Cochlear's Baha System today!
© 2018 Angela Tagliamonte