Posts Tagged 'Reverse slope hearing loss'

The Upgrade part 3: Will hissssssstory repeat itself?

the mighty chipolata

“Good news, no great change since your last hearing test”, announced the charming audiologist as I handed the sweaty button-push back. “There’s a mild loss in the low frequencies, but nothing significant”.

I peered at the screen while she did a bit of wire untangling for the next bit, and beamed with pride as I spotted a perfect 0dB threshold in both ears at 4KHz. I always like to do well in a test, but zero dB, wow. This was actually 10dB better than it was back in 2010, so I surmised that I should be able to enjoy the hissing of leaves on the trees, the hissing of the sea, and the hissing of hearing aid circuitry for many more years to come. In fact, if things kept up at this rate of improvement, I might even be able to hear the hissing of other people’s hearing aid circuitry in five years’ time.

“Okay, you know the drill”, said the charming audiologist, as sound probes were wiggled into my ears and the chipolatas were wired up ready for programming. The Oticons, now prostrate and deaf on the table, looked tiny and vulnerable in comparison; I remembered my tragic abandonment of the Siemens Chroma S back in 2012 and vowed that this time, the Oticons were coming home with me until I knew that things were going to be alright. If the performance of the mighty chipolatas matched up to their size, I would be happy to let the Oticons go to NHS hearing aid heaven. If it didn’t…well, it didn’t bear thinking about, so I decided not to, just yet.

After the initial programming, the charming audiologist set about a bit of on-screen fiddling with settings, and I started to become anxious every time a hiss or distortion entered the setup. I wished, not for the first time, that I could do the fiddling bit myself, but after a short while, her work was done and the moment of truth arrived.

“Right, I’m just going to talk for a bit so that you can tell me how it sounds”, she said. I listened carefully, relieved that although I could hear some hiss thanks to my freak bat ear peak at 4KHz, it was nowhere near as loud as the last time with the original Danalogics. I’d rather have no hiss at all, but I could live with it. To my cookiebite ears, the 2012 originals had sounded like a basket of chips being lowered into a deep fat fryer at the initial fitting. This time, other than a mild hiss  and air-con sound, there was nothing distinctive to comment on, but there never is in a soundproof room with air-con. Result.

“Sounds okay –  ” I stopped in my tracks.

“Oh… my voice sounds different…not dramatically so, but…different…” I struggled in vain for a description to the sound, but nothing came apart from ‘boingyness’ and I thought I’d better just keep that one to myself since I was supposed to be articulate. I certainly couldn’t hear anything intrusively bad, so after a run-through of the controls and a small tantrum of disbelief upon discovering the fact that there was a volume wheel instead of a push button, no default beep indicator on the volume, and no mute setting, I decided I was ready to return to the outside world.

I thanked the charming audiologist for her genuinely charming and painstaking attentions, slid the sleeping Oticons off the edge of the table into my handbag, and set off with the chipolatas on my ears to experience a whole new world of Danalogic sound.

More Music for Cookiebiters


Thanks to our very own Rose Rodent, the arrival of a carefully addressed box of native British songbirds at the Institute of Artistic Endeavour this week caused great consternation in the janitors’ mail room, and has also prompted a revival of my peculiar interest in music for cookiebiters. See what you’ve gone and done, Rose.

For cookiebite easy listening, I didn’t think anyone could top Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson’s ill fated 2010 Music for Dogs which I’m very fond of mentioning on here, but Dawn Chorus by Marcus Coates is my new fave rave. It’s an epic piece of sound art which could almost have been made specially for the pre-presbycutic cookiebiter or reverse sloper. It dates from 2007, when I first began remarking to the spouse that there didn’t seem to be as many birds around first thing in the morning as there used to be, and when the dystopian world of NHS audiology was still a far off place.

The birdsong you hear in the videos, if you are lucky enough to still be in possession of either natural or technologically enhanced high frequency hearing, is actually generated by the human voice. The participants mimicked slowed down recordings of birdsong, and the footage was speeded up to match the speed of the original recordings of the birds. The resulting human vocals and body movements are eerily birdlike.

The clip embedded here presents all the recordings in a linear fashion and, interestingly, when I listened to it on a loud volume with hearing aids on, it produced the nastiest set of hearing aid distortion artefacts I have yet encountered, so I hope nobody’s hearing instruments explode when listening to it…

You can view an explanation and a better quality version of the clip here. Clip 2 on that page also lets you experience the pieces as they were presented in the original installation. Clever stuff.

This Is A Journey Into Sound.

Cookiebite quirks covered  below in 16 apposite song titles, for your virtual listening pleasure. Recognise any?

1 Do you hear what I hear

We’ll never know the answer to this one, but the cookiebiter can sometimes hear more than those with normal hearing… just not where it matters, ie the human speech frequencies. With my mild overall loss I have excellent high frequency hearing for conversing with bats, and effortlessly pass every online speech-in-noise hearing test with flying colours. The only thing I have any difficulty with is hearing speech in noise in real life. And occasional fire alarms.

2 Songs without words

Although it is still my contention that no-one speaks properly these days, the cookiebiter is doomed to find everyone laughing at them when they sing songs in public, because half the words are wrong and the other half are replaced with an embarrassing number of la-la-las to fill in the gaps. It’ll always be Lord of The Dance Settee to me.

3 I can’t hear the music

This one is not strictly true. The mild cookiebiter can still hear it, but unfortunately they can’t always tell what it is. Vocals do not exist if there’s a tambourine or a heavy bass beat going on anywhere. Forget joining the Salvation Army choir if you’re a cookiebiter.

4 Loose change

People don’t understand hearing loss generally, and it is a sad fact of life that the cookiebiter or reverse sloper who demonstrates a superpower ability to hear loose change chinking a mile off will be treated with incredulity when they ask for people with low voices to speak up a bit from two feet away.

5 Pump up the volume

But don’t pump it up too far, tellies and hearing aids seem to go from too quiet to too loud in only one notch. Male partners of deifies are doomed to constant requests for volume changes if they refuse to relinquish control of the tv remote. Serves them right.

6 Listen to the bells

Ah, Tinnitus. The ultimate irony to be able to hear an annoying noise that doesn’t even exist, with the added blow that the batteries never run out.

7 Standing at the threshold

My ENT consultant tried to illuminate my prognosis with the interesting analogy that my hearing thresholds were like a creaking gate, just waiting to fall off its hinges. “I’m afraid you just never know when it’s going to eventually fall off, Mrs Dancer”, he said cheerfully with a shrug of the shoulders. Hopefully my gate won’t fall off for a while.

8 Music sounds better with you

Well, it does… and it doesn’t. Ah, hearing aids and music. They tease you by letting you know what you’ve been missing, and then selectively mangle your tunes. Once they’re set up correctly, though, they’re wonderful. Your piano will sound like you’re right next to it when you’re playing, rather than in the next room.

9 Can’t you hear me knocking

Wood sounds are now spectacularly audible through the hearing aids, but so is the previously inaudible traffic noise coming through the open window, so you’ll still need to be either very patient or very assertive when knocking on my office door. I often find extremely patient and unassertive students lifting a badly bruised knuckle to the door when I open it to go out and fill up the kettle. Best policy is to jangle some loose change or rustle a bag of crisps to get my attention instead. Some people like to just barge in, but you can give a cookiebiter a heart attack that way if their back’s turned.

10 Listen to what the man said 

But you’ll need to keep reminding him to speak up and to stop covering his mouth with his wine glass first. Since the cookiebiter generally finds low pitched male voices less audible than female voices, the ideal audiometric situation for the ageing couple is for the cookiebiter to be female. That way, once presbycusis kicks in, he won’t be able to hear your higher pitched tones either, and will finally understand why you keep asking him to lower his wine glass from his face. Sadly, getting him to comply is another matter.

11 Read my lips

In a spectacular triumph of hope over experience, the spouse still attempts bedtime conversation with me, after I’ve taken my glasses off and his lips have vanished. It can be very frustrating for him.

12 Ears of tin 

Naturally, this is an insult, they’re not made of tin at all. Cookie Bite ears are actually made of cloth.

13 The hissing of summer lawns

And hearing aid circuit noise. Perfect listening for the cookiebiter with a pair of hissing NHS Danalogic i-FIT 71s. Wish I’d known about this track a couple of months ago.

14 Music for dogs

And cookiebiters. Better still, cookiebiters with dogs. Poor old Lou got ridiculed for his high-pitched concert aimed at canines a couple of years ago. If only he’d realised, he could have widened his target audience and filled the empty seats with cookiebiters and reverse slopers.

15 I beeped when I shoulda bopped

There’s always loadsa unwanted beeping going on when hearing aids decide to enter a tuneless and prolonged duet with the microwave, etc, but this track actually references the cookiebiter’s decreased ability to hear vowels, the loudest components of speech. I don’t know what Cab Calloway was up to when he transposed his vowels in the song, but it sounds painful.

 16 Tears on the telephone

If you suspect a loved one or colleague might have a hearing loss even though they’ve passed the online hearing tests with flying colours, just monitor their mobile phone usage. I bought a new one 6 months ago, and I’ve not had to charge it up even once. Or pass them a phone mid-call, after saying loudly to the caller “I’ll just put you on to my colleague, she’s the expert on that.” If they suddenly faint, suspect hearing loss.


Oh dear. A week, as they say, is a long time in politics, but it’s an even longer time in hissing hearing aids. Ever since allowing myself to be persuaded by Clinic O that the abominable static noise emanating from the circuitry of my newly acquired Danalogic i-FIT 71 aids might be something which could be conquered by the neural plasticity of my auditory cortex, ie I’d get used to it, I’ve somewhat regretted it.

Although it is a marvellous coping phenomenon that my brain fashions the hiss into the phantom noise of a shower when I am in the bathroom, and the noise of a deep fat fryer when I am in the kitchen, its creativity is stumped when I’m in silence. In quiet surroundings, the hiss sounds just like an annoyingly hissing pair of hearing aids. It’s loud enough to mask other high frequency sounds, and I’m worried that an escaped rattlesnake could sneak up behind me undetected.

Demented in the empty office at work on Wednesday, I sought solace in the perfect place to escape from the hiss. The studio. “Budge up!” I said enthusiastically to a student, who had been reclining comfortably on the sofa with her book until my unexpected arrival with my laptop disturbed her. I listened for a bit to make sure that the soundscape was to my liking, then sat down to attend to my daily mountain of emails. Ah, this was more like it. The hiss was slightly less audible. The studio was only half full of students, but they were working in groups so were producing plenty of chat. I was slightly disappointed that there was no loud music, but was heartened to hear the reassuring rumble of the extraction system overhead. The noise of 60 feet of exposed industrial ducting was going some way towards drowning out the hiss but was not eliminating it entirely. I was on the verge of asking someone to open a window so that the noise of the nearby motorway could help out a bit, when an even better solution presented itself in the form of some impromptu furniture moving by students. Several chairs and desks were dragged mercilessly back and forth across the bare concrete floor, producing a rich variety of soothing scraping and grinding noises. Ahhhh. That’s better I said to myself, I can’t even hear the hiss now when I listen out for it. Maybe they were right at Clinic O after all!

Then it all got spoiled. Without warning, a heavy 6 by 4 foot sheet of mdf was knocked over by accident, causing a very loud bang. Although the bang itself was extremely acoustically satisfying in the bare concrete space, it was followed by a pregnant silence as everyone waited to see if there had been a casualty. This was all the hiss needed in order to sneak back in to my consciousness. Ssssssssss. Then to my relief, a round of shrieking and laughter began, followed by a purposeful bout of hammering to fix the damage. Phew.

The studio door banged open and shut with a pleasing regularity throughout, and every so often, the plumbing let out its usual foghorn blast every time a tap was turned on. As I basked in the racket, I reflected that the only thing that could possibly make the ambience more perfect for masking unwanted hissing noises from hearing aids, was the sounding of the twice weekly fire alarm test.

“Can I talk to you about my project?” said a student who had just wandered into my field of vision.

“Certainly”, I said, hoping there was going to be plenty to look at.

A New Dawn

As I trotted down the corridor at Clinic O yesterday behind the hearing aid chap in scrubs who had just called my name, I noticed he seemed to have his hands full.

“Take a seat, Mrs Dancer”, he said, carefully releasing his pile of stuff on to the table beside the silicone ear model. What was in those boxes? I watched intently as some familiar wires appeared from the drawer…it couldn’t be, surely?

It was.

“Today, we’re going to fit you with a second aid, but technology has moved on plus Siemens no longer hold the NHS contract here, so you’re getting two new ones…do you have your current aid?”

Holy Smoke, this was a turn up for the books. Like Christmas and winning the Lottery all in one. I handed over the Siemens Chroma S, and felt a slight twinge of betrayal anxiety as I saw it cast aside, with its nearly new dome pulled inside out by its hasty removal. It looked like a beige beetle on its back with a defiant leg in the air, and I wondered if I might come to regret parting with it so easily. Being the fickle sort, I was soon distracted by the opening of the boxes, and I leant forward eagerly to see what was inside.

The first three majestic notes of Also Sprach Zarathustra rang out in the phantom music department of my auditory cortex as some tissue paper was unwrapped on the table in front of me. Da…daa…daaaa… Gosh, this was exciting. An earhook and some unidentifiable bits fell out first and were put to one side, then another earhook and some more unidentifiable bits. The tympani section of Also Sprach pounded away dramatically inside my head while another tissue paper package prepared to be unwrapped. It took a while. As Also Sprach reached its dramatic climax, the first Danalogic i-FIT 71 emerged slowly from its cocoon. Then the second. I could bear it no longer.

“What colour are they, what colour are they?”

An outstretched hand gave me my answer.

“Ah. New NHS Beige”, I said, not realising that colour was going to be the least of my concerns in half an hour’s time.


It was good news and bad news as the nurse peered into my ears in preparation for my appointment with the dreaded ear irrigation apparatus.

“The good news is you’ve done a great job with the oil,” she said, “that right ear has cleared itself almost completely. We never irrigate if the eardrum can be seen, and I can see yours quite clearly.”

“Phew, thank goodness for that!” I said, glad that the thin film of almond oil coating everything within a 2m radius of the bedside table was going to be a thing of the past. Although I was relieved that the irrigation was off, I was slightly disappointed that the wax plug had simply melted away into my pillow instead of blowing dramatically out of my ear like a champagne cork. Moreover, I had been excited by the prospect of a miraculous increase in hearing ability after reading this paper which examines the gory correlation between the size of wax plug and increase in hearing ability after removal. Now I’d never know how big my plug had been unless I could subject the pillow to a detailed forensic analysis. Hmmm. Maybe I…

The nurse cut in before I could devise a suitable pillow vaporisation protocol.

“The bad news is that the left ear is now completely blocked.”

It struck me for a second that perhaps the original plug had not dissolved after all and had just migrated across the vacant space between my ears. Either way, I was going to have to make sure I could maintain a couple of clean canals to co-incide with my appointment at the hearing aid clinic in two weeks’ time. Given the capricious cerumenous activity of the previous week, this might prove more tricky than I had previously thought.

“We’ll just turn you round the other way and get that left ear cleared”, said the nurse enthusiastically, as I was ceremonially draped in paper towels and given a metal receptacle to hold under my ear. “Ready? Okay, here we go…”

The ear irrigation machine sprang into life and the patients in the GPs waiting room on the other side of the door were treated to a series of disgracefully loud shrieks interspersed with hysterical nervous laughter, as the pulsed water jet pummelled the offending wax plug into submission. When it was all over, I eagerly awaited some speech to test out my new hearing.

“All done. You’ll be relieved to get that out of your ear!” said the nurse, putting something in the bin. Strangely, nothing sounded any different, apart from a disturbing sloshing noise in the left ear when I bent forward to pick up my handbag. I thanked the nurse, who had been genuinely lovely, and made my way home through the park, sans hearing aid and with a slightly wet t shirt. I noted that my footsteps were still well and truly absent and, for a moment, felt slightly disappointed.

But only for a moment. I just stamped my feet a bit more heavily as I walked, and enjoyed the sound of the birds tweeting loudly in the sunshine instead.

My unofficial hearing thresholds captured on the very handy Equal Loudness Contours site one week before, and immediately after wax removal. Left ear was irrigated. Right ear was confited in almond oil. 

A Marriage Made in Heaven

It would seem that, between the ears and the eyes, the spouse and I are turning into the sensory equivalent of yin and yang. My short sightedness and his rapidly advancing long sightedness are the perfect combination. He does the long distance vision tasks such as reading the train departure board, spotting signs for motorway turnoffs before we drive past them, and monitoring junkies prowling about in back gardens half a mile away.

I do the close vision stuff like reading restaurant menus by candlelight, differentiating mouse droppings from charred toast crumbs at the Buteshack, and spotting foreign objects in restaurant food. Like the piece of deep-fried cellophane poking out of the spouse’s spring roll at the Chinese restaurant last night.

As for the ears, between the two of us, we can cover the full range of an audiogram and beyond, with me excelling in the dog whistle outer limits of the high frequencies. To make up for my declining mid-frequencies, the spouse is responsible for dealing with human speech quieter than 50dB, identifying strange noises in the middle of the night and pulling me back from stepping out in front of cars approaching from the right.

In return, I locate hissing punctures in bicycle inner tubes and…and…and…well, the spouse says it’s very handy to be able to identify a puncture at the roadside without a bowl of water.

Cough. Sniff. Wheeze.

The spouse has taken up residence in the spare room. A coughing fit which woke me on wednesday morning turned out not to be my lungs expelling the last of the toasted cheese I had choked on the previous lunchtime, as I thought, but the onset of a cold. The spouse hates coughing noises and sneezing noises and loud nose blowing noises unless he is making them himself, so he decided to ensure a nice quiet night by retreating to the spare room with his earplugs.

Well, it was all right for him. As I turned the hall lights out, I heard some distant snoring to indicate that he was already happily asleep. Half an hour later, as I tossed and turned feverishly in my bed of pain, the snoring had ceased. To my annoyance, it had been replaced by, what is to me, the ‘fingernails scraping on a blackboard’ of the bodily noises world: The Nasal Whistle.

In a cruel irony, my ears which are so insensitive to distant speech were picking up the spouse’s distant 10kHz nasal whistle as if he were right next to me, with his wheezing nostril in a megaphone. Typical.

Since sleep was not going to be forthcoming, I amused myself with a bit of speculation about how this sensitivity to irritating high pitched noises at the expense of speech had evolved. Perhaps this strange cochlear quirk had some biological advantage at one time? I imagined a documentary on the Discovery Channel about an ancient civilisation ruled by a tribe of cookie biters. They communicated over long distances when hunting by using a unique nasal whistling language, but were wiped out when they all caught a cold and had to resort to traditional speech.

“Watch out old chap, there’s a lion over there!”

“Eh? A what over where?”



“Oh, never mind, it doesn’t matter.”

“ROARRR. Crunch.”

That’s Progress For You

The end of a brief era of audible phone calls

A shiny new phone system has been installed at work, rendering Moira’s Big Phone, with its beloved Amplify button, obsolete. I sadly unplugged it, remembering the pain which had gone into getting it in the first place. I winced at the memory of the unfortunate Occupational Therapy incident back in February, where I had been hoping to get a decent phone and some low-key advice on acoustics in learning spaces. Owing to a complicated series of mis-communications caused by an over-sensitive spam filter in the HR department, I ended up being interviewed by an independent doctor instead. The whole thing started badly when Doctor Gloucester opened his file and said,

“It says here that you’re Deaf…but you’re clearly not Deaf. Not with a capital ‘D’.”

“Oh god, no…I’ve got some mild Cookie Bite hearing loss.”

“Mmmmm…” hummed the doctor, “Cookie Bite? Never heard of that. I’ll just do a quick test of your hearing.”

He whispered a series of numbers over my shoulder, in an exquisitely sibilant hiss.

“Sssssssssixty sssssssixxxxxx”

“Ssssssssseventy eightttttttttt”

“Ffffffffffffffffifty ttttttttttwo”

I heard every single one clear as a bell, and this revelation made me wonder whether I should be asking people to whisper using lots of words with ‘s’ in, instead of asking them to speak up.

“Can’t find any signs of hearing impairment, so I don’t think you’d be covered by the Disability Act”, he concluded. “Had a lecturer chap in earlier and he couldn’t hear a thing even when I shouted right into to his ears with his hearing aids in.”

“That’s awful”, I mumbled, eyeing up the emergency exit and wishing my occupational therapy request to HR had remained in their spam filter. Just as I thought my embarrassment threshold had plumbed a new depth, I realised it wasn’t over yet.

“Can I see your hearing aid for a moment?” said the doctor, suspiciously.

Oh my god, he thinks I’m suffering from the world’s first case of Munchausen’s Syndrome by Hearing Aid, I thought with horror. I abandoned the emergency exit idea and contemplated just jumping straight through the window instead, to avoid being exposed as a phone-grabbing malingerer in an expensive two page report to my employer. After a quick wipe on my t-shirt, I reluctantly handed the NHS’s beige property over, wondering how many artificial legs and glass eyes had been passed across the table for independent scrutiny over the years.

Doctor Gloucester examined it carefully, while I cringed in the corner, then handed it back with his verdict.

“Hmmmmm. Could do with one of these myself, but think I’ll wait another few years. Vanity… it’s a terrible thing.”

If a tree falls in the forest…

At the weekend, the spouse pointed out a snippet in The Guardian Guide which said that Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson are playing a gig only audible to dogs in Sydney next month. He felt that this might be of interest to me since I keep complaining about an annoying high pitched noise coming out of our ancient VCR machine and he confidently states it’s a figment of my imagination because he can’t hear it.

Well, readers, I’m vindicated. In a quiet moment during lunchtime in the office today, I tried out the Mosquito Tone Test (or How to Tell you’re a Young’un) and I’m pleased to report that in high frequency hearing terms I’m in the 18-24 age range because I can hear a 16kHz dog whistle unpleasantly loudly. In the human speech frequencies I’m a pensioner, but let’s gloss over that for a moment, I want to enjoy my fading moments of high frequency auditory superiority before presbycusis rains on my 43 year old parade.

As I was doing the test and eating my lunch, a student interrupted my highly scientific endeavours by  asking to come in to the office to wait for my colleague. I now had to eat my much looked forward to tomato soup silently, instead of slurping it noisily as I would have done on my own. I was annoyed, but thought I could get my own back by secretly trying out the 17kHz mosquito tone on my uninvited 22 year old guest. If it worked and she had to leave, it might buy me enough time to lick the soup bowl clean in private. I clicked the button gleefully, but there was absolutely no response. Maybe she thinks it’s my hearing aid and is being polite despite her ears melting, I thought. I turned up the volume on the computer a bit, mindful of the dire warnings that one’s speakers could explode, but still no response. I was forced to go to 16 kHz which was now extremely unpleasant for me despite my advanced years. Still nothing. I slurped a mouthful of soup and her head turned. Hmmm. Don’t know about her but I can’t take 15kHz, I conceded, and I quit the site and went back to looking at a dull swathe of official emails.

The spouse was forced against his will to take the test this evening and only made it to a feeble 11 kHz, making him age 59 in dog whistle terms instead of his actual age of 45. We’ve agreed that if he carries on with the tv interpreting, I’ll take care of the VCR troubleshooting and gas leak detection.


Blog Stats

  • 184,643 hits