A couple months ago I had my surgery for a bone-anchored hearing aid (BAHA for short). Here’s my post-op photo.
Soon after I got my healing pouch thing removed, revealing the titanium stud (on medical paperwork it’s called an “abutment”). You can see it here with my old hearing aid.
I had to wait six more weeks to let that heal, but earlier this week I finally got my BAHA!
A few people have already been asking me how things are with it. I wanted to wear it for a few days before I wrote up my thoughts comparing it to my old over-the-ear (OTE) hearing aids. If you’re curious, the device is the Ponto 3 SuperPower.
The BAHA and Streamer
First, I want to talk about the BAHA itself. Like my old hearing aids, this comes with a “streamer” that hangs around my neck (although I can get a belt clip for it, should I desire). This allows me to sync Bluetooth devices like my phone to my hearing aid — my OTE aids could do this, too. The streamer also has a mic in the top, so I can take phone calls without putting the phone to my ear, as long as the streamer is visible.
The first big new thing is that I now have an aux jack in my streamer, which means I can connect directly to devices with the right port (with the cord, which was included). I was able to plug into my headphone port on my laptop and take a Skype call, and I can also plug into my recording microphone, and it all goes right to my BAHA. So I can pack up my huge, chunky headset I needed for video conferences!
A change from my old streamer is that I have to intentionally push an input button to get audio from my phone that isn’t a phone call (calls go right through automatically, which is a nice touch). It does mean that I have to intentionally switch to listen to podcasts or audiobooks on my BAHA, but it also means I don’t have all the random beeps and notifications from my phone going to my hearing aids. With my old hearing aids, it was really fucking annoying when I’m trying to have a conversation with someone and I keep hearing beeps in my ears because someone decided to send me a barrage of Facebook or Skype IMs.
What the BAHA, phone calls will always go through, which is the use case I need, but everything else only goes through if I tell it to. As such, it’s the best of both possible worlds. (Also, because it’s not sending me literally every noise, my streamer doesn’t need to be charged nearly as often — moderate use all day only dropped my battery to 60%.)
Finally, the BAHA uses different (larger) batteries, but I only have one hearing aid instead of two. So I suspect I’ll be buying batteries much less often.
So what does all that mean to my day-to-day life so far? Things are definitely louder, particularly background noise (which I didn’t pick up previously). I can now hear things like people’s conversations nearby me, fans, and even people yelling outside our house. I was worried that it would be harder to hear in restaurants as a result, but we went out to eat last night and it was actually slightly easier to understand people. Further, my family pointed out that I wasn’t speaking as loudly as I usually do in such environments.
One of the big things I’m getting used to is that I don’t have something in my ears, so I’m hearing with my ears and my BAHA. That means that most everything has a slight echo to it, particularly in small, quiet spaces. Luckily, it’s something I’m already getting used to.
Everything right now sounds very flat, like a monotone track. Originally I suspected this might happen, because… well, one device instead of two, so all my audio is going in only one way. But during my hearing test I was able to “hear” sounds on the left and the right, and apparently that’s an intentional design. The BAHA actually vibrates my skulls in different ways to give some left/right differentiation. So, I think it’s more that I have to get used to getting sound this way. That said, now that I don’t have anything in my ears, I can actually use headphones if I want to hear stereo audio — I just have to turn them up really loud. And since it’s not going through my device, I still hear everything around me (or I can mute my BAHA if I want).
There are some downsides, but they’re minor. For one, the BAHA doesn’t just snap on, but rather you have to put one side of the abutment into the BAHA, and then rock it over — think of it like the button on button-fly jeans, but backwards (the “button” is stable while the “fly” is mobile). This means it has some flex on the stud, which isn’t necessarily bad. But I’ve discovered if I bump it in a certain way, the BAHA will pop right off. It came with a little clip I can thread through it and attach to my shirt, so if I’m in an environment where I can anticipate that, I’m covered. I’ll probably do that when I go on bike rides, for example.
The other problem is more specific to me. In the pictures, you can see I have long, thick hair. And the hair covers the BAHA, without any loss in sound quality. But my hair brushes across the mics, so I hear rustling every time I move my head, which I got irritated with after a day.
On a lark I booked an appointment with a local hair salon, and the stylist I got has a boyfriend who is a barber, and his client has a BAHA, so she had the chance to talk things over with him and come up with some solutions! I just got home from there, and right now I have an undercut, but my hair is still long — we’re hoping that the hair will fall just over the BAHA and stop the rustling. But if that doesn’t work (and already I suspect it won’t), she’ll give me a shorter haircut so my hair doesn’t go anywhere near the BAHA. If nothing else, putting my hair in a ponytail right now keeps it well wait from the BAHA, which is certainly a start. But I may have to make more friends with hair stylists.
A lot of that is just adapting to live with a BAHA, though. Already I’m really happy and excited that I got this. It was a long wait and lot of arguing with insurance, but in the end it was definitely worth it.