When Your Hearing Aids Catastrophically Fail

I love my hearing aids. I wear them every morning, afternoon and evening. Even overnight since they are extended wear. They help me hear the sounds around me, keeping me safe and allowing me to communicate with the people I love.

But what happens when your hearing aids catastrophically fail — on an overseas trip thousands of miles from home and your audiologist? You cry, you yell, you suffer and then you get on with it — turning to alternative forms of assistive listening technology. It was quite a learning experience.

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On my recent trip to China, my hearing aids catastrophically failed. The first aid stopped working on the third day of the two-week trip and the other aid died two days later. Was it the heat — it was 105 °F with 95% humidity every day — or something else? I’ll probably never know.

When the first aid failed, we were touring an ancient Buddhist temple. I was enjoying the statues and murals, but could not hear the explanation from our tour guide. I had picked up a head cold on the plane ride over, so I wondered if that was the cause of the problem. I tried to adjust the volume higher, but when nothing happened, I realized my hearing aid was dead.

I was able to remove it from my ear (mine are worn deep in the ear canal) and stumbled along with lopsided hearing. It was challenging, but with some careful maneuvering (positioning my good ear towards anything I needed to hear) I was able to function moderately well.

When the other hearing aid stopped working two days later, I was the deafest I had ever been. And I still had 10 days of touring ahead of me. I was pretty upset.

I usually wear my hearing aids 24/7 so the transition to silence was eerie. But it actually wasn’t so quiet, because my tinnitus had kicked into overdrive. I felt myself instinctively withdrawing from conversation. The exhaustion of trying to keep up with the activities around me was overwhelming. I collapsed into bed at the end of my first soundless day.

I went into survival mode. What options did I have available? Since my hearing aids are extended wear and replaced regularly as part of subscription model, I don’t have a working back-up set of aids. This is something I vowed to change when I got home.

In China, hearing aids are sold at the local pharmacy. As someone who lives in the US, it was fascinating to see affordable hearing devices on display and ready for purchase at a store. Perhaps we will see this in the US as the OTC Hearing Aid Act comes to fruition. Among other benefits, it would make it much easier to have an affordably priced  back up pair of hearing aids to use in a pinch.

There were several options at the store, some by names I recognized like ReSound and Siemens. The prices ranged from $300 to over $1000 per aid. While I was tempted to give one a try, the language barrier made it impossible to assure proper programming so I decided to pass.

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I reached out to my HLAA network for suggestions and learned about several apps that would let me use my iPhone microphone as a hearing aid. I purchased a pair of in-ear noise-canceling headphones and used them in combination with the EarMachine app. You can see me using this system in the post photo.

While it was not perfect by any means, this work-around did allow me to hear our tour guides (as long as I was standing close to them and pointing my phone’s microphone at them) and converse with my traveling companions at meals. It was a life saver.

What did this experience teach me? Always have a back-up plan. I guess even advocates have to learn the hard way sometimes…

Readers, have your hearing aids ever catastrophically failed?

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26 thoughts on “When Your Hearing Aids Catastrophically Fail

  1. EarMachine app only available with smart phones, yes? Did you have to purchase completely new aids when you got back to the states??

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    • I believe the app only works on smart phones. I have a subscription model (my aids are replaced by an audiologist every 6-8 weeks which is the typical battery life) so I got a new set of aides when I returned home. Thanks for your comment.

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  2. Shari,

    I read the reviews. A couple of people loved it.
    A couple of people did NOT like it, because it only (reportedly) works with specific headphones…is this true? Which headphones would work with this app?
    Thanks,
    Ronnie

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    • Interesting. I used Bose in-ear noise canceling headphones and they worked fine. I didn’t try any other headphones with it since the first pair I tried worked well. There are many other apps to try. This was the one that worked best for me. Others may work better for other people. Thanks for your question.

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  3. I just used my “wired” earphone/headset (Apple)…worked great.
    Thanks for sharing!
    This App is great to use in a pinch, for sure.
    I will share it with HOH/deaf friends and family!

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  4. Hi Shari,

    Like you, I am a travel lover and always travel with at least 2 good working spare HAs. I have a profound hearing loss and wear the most powerful behind the ear model. I’ve had ear mold tubing fall out or crack on me during vacations so I always bring spare ear molds with me as well. I wish I could wear those convenient in the canal or extended wear HAs. I’d never survive using a phone app as an amplifier but nice to know there is such a thing for those who can benefit from them . Happy Travels!

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  5. Hi

    I wear BTE aids. I’ve mentioned before that HA wearers in the UK who get their aids from the UK National Health Service can pay a deposit for spare aids to take on holiday (vacation).

    On our recent trip to Spain I had an experience similar to Gina Murray’s when my left ear mould tubing came away from the aid whilst I had it on.

    It never happened with my right ear aid weirdly enough.

    It was hot, so again was it the heat? But if that was the case why only the left ear aid?

    Now we are back in the UK and the weather is typically British summer weather where you can’t be certain from on hour to the next what it will be like (it’s raining as I write this).

    When the weather is fine, it’s not as hot as it was in Spain and since returning I’ve had no problem with the ear mould tubing.

    Strange!

    Ian

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    • My tubing in my ear molds are glued with like a crazy glue type glue and over time , the glue crystalizes and the tubing slips through. I also notice ear wax and excess moisture and heat (either from the ears or the weather around us) can play havoc with ear molds with tubing .

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  6. I would like to buy my husband some great headphones. He has profound hearing loss in both ears and wears over the ear hearing aids with ear molds. Any specific suggestions or links. I’m not at all tech savvy and want to make sure I get something that will work with his hearing aids. The stores around here can’t help me. What specific model do you use? Would it work with his type if hearing aid?

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  7. Devices like a Pocketalker are economical, small and compact and would be perfect is a back-up if ones hearing aids fail while on holidays.

    Also my father never travels anywhere without his electronic drying unit. Sure they are one more item to pack, but in hot humid places, a good electronic drying unit is well worth the investment in cost and in lost luggage space. Just pack one less shirt or pair of shoes and your drying unit will fit nicely in your suitcase.
    The Perfect Dry Lux from MG is so small it will fit in suitcase without any lost space. The Global II from Ear Tech is larger, but some people swear by it and never travel anywhere without it.

    If anyone is traveling and worried about their hearing aids going on the fritz and or losing an aid, I would encourage you to consider picking up a Pocketalker.

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  8. This post was quite timely. I just returned from a trip abroad a few days ago. Two hours before leaving for the trip to check in at the airport, one of my hearing aids totally died (the BTE). I have a back up but it is old and inferior and barely amplified when I tried it. Needless to say I was in tears and panic as it was the end of the day and my audiologist is a 45 minute drive away from me in the opposite direction of the airport. Luckily they stayed open waiting for me, I drove like a maniac down to them, where they replaced an entire part, and then directly to the airport from there.

    The day after I arrived overseas, the aid in the other ear, the Lyric, suddenly started to corrupt. Voices sounded like Darth Vader and the volume dropped considerably. Remarkably, it didn’t totally die on me during the trip, but trying to hear with it was very difficult and frustrating throughout.
    In the past I have always carried backups. Incredibly, I have had both my first line hearing aids and then my backups die right afterwards when most needed, far from home or in the most stressful of situations.

    I tried using the “Ava” app on my phone to assist with hearing tour guides. This transcribes voices into written word (not always so accurately). For a little while it was helpful but I found I needed to be within WiFi range for it to work. I have tried using the Petralex app also for amplification via the phone, but that has been a failure no matter what setting I used.

    In two days I have an appointment to test drive new HA’s, and you can bet I will have backups!

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  9. Mine went completely dead midway through a vacation in the Caribbean far from any audiologist. Then, a hurricane came through shutting down the airports and forcing us to stay an extra two days. It was stressful enough not being able to hear much, but then to add on top having to struggle through understanding emergency procedures and making alternative travel arrangement just made it worse.

    As soon as I got home, I did two things: had my HA’s repaired and immediately bought a new one so I had a backup to use. So now I have two sets and both work great.

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  10. Hi Shari,

    Over the years, I’ve had several “catastrophic” hearing aid failures, usually involving water and heat. The first one stands out. It was in 1969, I was 17 and supposed to be a groomsman in my cousin’s wedding. I’d suffered an injury to my right ear the previous summer leaving me with a severe hearing loss. Back in those days, the only choice available was the case and cord style of hearing aid, loud speaking, embarrassment and frustration! Has much changed? LOL!
    Since I was under age, I became the designated driver for the bachelor’s party, which ended at the motel pool where I was unceremoniously pushed in along with everyone else!
    One might imagine being an awkward 17 year old, new to hearing loss/hearing aids and now being an unwanted distraction in an event where I was supposed to be a minor, supporting cast member? And, of course, on a weekend miles away from a hearing aid office.
    Since this was family and everyone knew about my accident, etc. etc. there was a lot of remorse and guilt mostly from the groom’s mother, my aunt. Somehow, on a Saturday, she located a spare hearing aid box that I could plug into my surviving ear piece and cord……allowing me to hear during the ceremony. (Little did I know at the time it had come from a nursing home and belonged to a recently deceased lady……!) BTW, this couple just celebrated 48 years together, a wedding I listened to using a dead lady’s hearing aid!
    Like your experience in China, we do what we must and live to tell the tale!

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