How to Talk to People with Hearing Loss

I was recently contacted by Julia Florentine who has just published a book with her mum and her colleague. The book is for friends and family of people with hearing loss on how to communicate effectively and is entitled “How to Talk to People with Hearing Loss“.

The purpose of the book is to explain what people with hearing loss find useful from their communication partners so that the reader can learn to be a better communicator. It aims at helping people to understand the communication difficulties people with hearing loss (in particular, age-related) may have, so that they are equipped with the tools to speak more effectively with someone without full hearing.

Although my hearing loss isn’t age-related, I can still identify with the information in this book and think the tips would be relevant to communicating with someone with any form of hearing loss.

Among other things the book outlines ‘Two Major Myths About Hearing Loss’, ‘Five Most Common Questions Answered’ and ‘Ten Tips for Effective Communication’.

The section I found most relevant to my needs was ‘Ten Tips for Effective Communication’.

I’m sure with different types of hearing loss, the weight of importance will be concentrated on different areas, yet all points carry significance. The main tips that I would like people to know are 6, 7, 8 and 10:

6. If I do not hear you the first time, repeat with different words. Don’t say the same word I did not hear over and over again.

7. Try to limit or avoid background noise. I do not hear well in noisy environments.

8. Talk to me on the side of my better ear.

10. Hearing under adverse conditions can be exhausting. Sometimes, I need a break.

The book doesn’t just provide the tips, it also examines them; suggesting and explaining helpful actions.

I’ve been thinking about the information highlighted in number 10 regarding listening fatigue and realised that this is something I haven’t really talked about to anybody, apart from those who are close to me. I think the reason for this is because there are many other points that I feel others need to know. In particular, I inform people of my hearing side and the fact that I may need to sit close to them to hear them and to watch their lips for clues. I try to make sure I tell these two pieces of information to anyone who I will be having a prolonged or regular communication with. These details are conveyed for practical reasons. The fact that I am tired, doesn’t seem essential to explain.  It seems more like a personal detail.

Yet, the effort involved in listening can be very demanding. Even just meeting with a friend for a coffee can leave me feeling exhausted, and I often have to go home afterwards to lie down and rest my ears and brain. A great amount of concentration is needed to hear the main aspects of a conversation, to process this information, whilst trying to focus on keywords over background noise. It can be tiring attempting to keep up with the change in context, at the same time as endeavouring to hear questions; striving to give appropriate answers. During any conversation, I continually urge my tinnitus not to steal my attention, I deal with sound sensitivity issues, and all the while trying to look at ease with the situation. And so, it is not surprising that trying to follow a conversation, let alone joining in with it, can be quite a mission for someone with hearing loss.

I am aware that people with hearing aids may turn them off when they get home after work or being in a noisy environment, and this allows them to rest their ears and takes away the pressure of trying to listen or respond to conversation. I am quite envious of this. It must be a relief to be able to tune out after being around noise all day. Similarly, I often wear an earplug in my hearing ear when carrying out noisy tasks, such as washing dishes – this gives my ears a rest from noise.

I found it interesting that the point about listening fatigue had been included in the book, as it is not really a tip, but rather an insight into life for someone with hearing loss. It is a point that I would like others to know about me, but one which I rarely voice. I would like people to know that it is an effort to converse. Unlike some issues related to hearing loss, everyone can relate to feeling tired. Perhaps this understanding and awareness could promote empathy.

If you would like more information about the book, it can be found on Amazon, through the following links:

UK: http://bit.ly/hearinglossbook

US: https://amzn.to/2HzgBXd

Spain: https://amzn.to/2w6Yp1W

I hope Julia’s book will help enable more effective communication between those with hearing loss and their communication partners.

My New Nose

Last year, on Valentine’s Day, I had my septoplasty. I had a deviated septum, which veered to the left; my deaf side. For as long as I could remember, I had been unable to breathe through my left nostril – something I hadn’t paid much regard to until my hearing loss and the onset of the associated feeling of pressure in my ears and head.

The pressure is often the most difficult symptom to manage. It is more prominent than my tinnitus. It is ever-present, unlike my sound sensitivity for which the degree of severity is dependent on environmental sounds. With more pressure in my ears comes more dizziness. I would try almost anything to help relieve some of this discomfort as it is extremely hard to disconnect from.

Following a consultation with a particular specialist, in which he stated with confidence that the reason for the feeling of pressure in my ears was because I couldn’t breathe properly, I had elected to have the septoplasty operation. Not all specialists had given me this opinion, and so I tried not to get my hopes up regarding an improvement in my ear discomfort. The straightening of my nasal septum would enable airflow through both nostrils which, at the very least, I hoped would help me sleep better. I also had a faint hope that it could result in a reduction in the feeling of pressure in my ears and head.

The outcome of the surgery wasn’t quite what I had hoped for. The operation had been a success in that my septum was now straight. However, although I was now able to breathe air ‘out’ of the left side, I was unable to inhale. Unfortunately, the nasal valve on the left side of my nose collapsed following the surgery. This meant that every time I tried to breathe air in, the weakened side of my left nostril caved into the nasal passage; blocking the airflow. If I wore a nasal dilator strip, which I opted for during the night, I was able to breathe through both nostrils. But, as soon as the strip was removed, my nasal valve collapsed again. And so, after my septoplasty, I was still unable to breathe naturally through my left nostril and for this reason, the operation also had no impact on my associated ear symptoms.

This year I was offered another procedure to help me breathe, and of course, I agreed to it. The surgery would involve reshaping my nose to correct my breathing problem. I still refused to give up hope for having the minimum comfort of being able to breathe properly. Moreover, I retained my guarded hope for some relief from the persistent ear pressure. 

I spent the weeks leading up to my surgery exploring how my new nose would feel. To simulate my anticipated, improved breathing function I would press my left index finger on a patch of skin next to the left side of my nose and pull the skin away from my nose gently; opening up my airways. The feeling of breathing through both nostrils was wonderful and the pressure around my nose was clearly reduced. I ignored the confused and sometimes disturbed looks passers-by would give me and I’d smile with delight at the thought of this extraordinarily oxygenated state could soon be my new ‘normal’.

I had the open rhinoplasty surgery six days ago and am recovering well. The operation experience was very similar to my septoplasty. I awoke from the anaesthesia with my nostrils full of packing. There was gauze taped under my nose to catch the blood that steadily drained for the next couple of days. The first two days were predictably the most difficult. I was in a significant amount of pain, and it was very uncomfortable trying to eat or drink anything with my nose blocked with dressings. When I returned to the hospital 2 days following the surgery, the specialist removed the nasal packing and I immediately felt a lot more comfortable and had some marvellous breaths of air through both nostrils. On leaving the hospital I felt quite lightheaded from all the air I was able to breathe.

Recovery will take time and patience. My nose is full of stitches and is very sore. My face is bruised and swollen and at present, I resemble an old bruised potato. My nose is currently congested due to swelling, and I am not allowed to blow it, so it feels like I have a very bad cold. But, I am hopeful for some more wonderful full breaths of fresh air. I am hopeful for better sleep. And, I am still holding on to my most cautious of hopes; for some reduction in the constant feeling of pressure.

…I also wonder what my new nose will look like.