As her hearing loss worsened, Sharon Hill feared that she wouldn’t be able to continue with her career as a speech-language pathologist. Then she discovered the EAS system: Electric and Acoustic Stimulation.
“I can still do the job I love.”Sharon Hill
When did you first notice that you had a hearing problem?
I discovered I had a hearing loss during a routine check-up in my late 20s. This was a shock because I hadn’t noticed any problems up until then. There was no obvious cause either – I have no family history of hearing loss and I’ve never been a fan of loud music. As it was mild, I could ignore it for a few years, but it gradually got worse.
How did it affect you at work?
Listening is an important part of my role as a speech-language pathologist, and many of my patients have soft or slurred voices due to conditions such as stroke or Parkinson’s. Over time, this became increasingly challenging.
Meetings also became difficult because I couldn’t follow everything that was said, so I began to avoid them as I was concerned about looking inattentive or stupid. Added to that, I often didn’t hear colleagues’ greetings and sometimes people would think I was ignoring them!
When did you first seek help?
I received my first pair of hearing aids in 1997 but I told colleagues they were devices to mask tinnitus, a condition that causes ringing in the ears. I didn’t want to admit to having a hearing problem because I was concerned about how it would affect people's perceptions of my ability to do my job.
But as my hearing loss progressed, I needed bigger hearing aids and I finally admitted my difficulties to colleagues. I wish I’d done so sooner because everyone was so understanding.
How did you find out about the Electric Acoustic Stimulation (EAS) system?
Around five years ago, my audiologist said that my hearing may have deteriorated enough for me to qualify for a cochlear implant (CI), and having seen the benefits of CIs in some of my patients, including a 90-year-old man, I was keen to give it a try.
However, when I went for an assessment, I was told that my hearing loss wasn’t quite severe enough. This was so frustrating as by then I strongly felt that a CI was the only thing that was going to give me hearing adequate enough to allow me to continue in the job I love.
That’s when they suggested that I apply to take part in a clinical trial for an EAS, a new system combining a CI with hearing aid technology. It’s designed for people who have lost the ability to hear high-pitched tones but can still hear lower tones. The CI stimulates the part of your cochlea responsible for high-frequency sounds, while the hearing aid part amplifies the lower tones, making use of your remaining hearing. I found a trial at the University of Miami and received my implant in 2013.
What difference has it made?
The most important thing is that I’m no longer worried about being unable to continue in my job, which is a huge relief. Work is so much easier – I don’t have to keep asking patients to repeat themselves, which is great all round. Before my implant, I could set off a patient’s personal alarm and not hear it, despite wearing two hearing aids. Now I can hear the alarm when I’m not even in the room!
But it’s also wonderful to hear sounds I wasn’t aware of before, like the clicking of buttons on my cell phone, blinkers on my car and laces on shoes. That’s besides beautiful sounds such as birdsong and crickets. And my hearing is still continuing to improve.
What would you say to someone who is considering an EAS system?
I’d always encourage people to research it as an option. When I hear people say, “Oh, I get by,” it’s such a pity. Why get by when you can flourish with better hearing? We miss so much of the beauty in the world when we aren’t truly connected to our environment.