Isn’t hearing amazing? Receiving a cochlear implant gives many recipients access to a whole new world of sound. And there are lots of good sounds in this world: it’s hard to not be happy when you hear the voices of friends and family, children laughing, or birds chirping.
But sometimes you might run into an unpleasant sound, especially if you’ve recently received a cochlear implant. Of course it’s easy to be worried that these unpleasant sounds will stick around forever, but don’t worry: this is really common and the unpleasant feeling often won’t last.
So if you’re finding some sounds to be unpleasant, how do you know if it will just take time for your ear to adjust—or if you should talk with your audiologist?
What’s making a specific sound unpleasant? Answering that question is the first step to finding the solution.
Some sounds are designed to be unpleasant for everybody, whether or not they’ve received a hearing implant. These could be the wail of sirens, like an ambulance or fire truck, or the shriek of a smoke alarm; these sounds are meant to be alarming for the purposes of safety.
Of course, this doesn’t explain why some sounds are unpleasant. If you’ve just received a cochlear implant it might be because your brain is still adjusting. When you receive a cochlear implant you’ll start hearing in a whole new way. It will take your brain some time to get used to this new way of hearing, as well as re-learning some sounds that you might not have heard in years.
What could these sounds be? Here are some that I know can be initially unpleasant:
- Turning the pages of a newspaper or magazine
- Dogs barking
- Babies crying
- Doing the dishes
- Running water
- Voices, whether they’re from men, women, or children
Some of these sounds might seem uncomfortable in the first days or weeks of hearing with a cochlear implant, but don’t worry: this is usually just a matter of taking time and practicing your listening. Your “map”, or the custom settings that control your audio processor, will likely change quite a bit over the first month as you discover more and more sounds. As your map changes, you’ll become more and more comfortable with these sounds. This means that your brain is starting to remember these sounds and how to process them.
What You Can Do
The most common time to be hearing sounds that might be uncomfortable are either in the first few months of your hearing, as I said above, or when you get a new map programmed. Don’t worry, that doesn’t mean it will always happen—but these are just the most likely times.
If this does happen to you, there are ways that you can take control of your hearing: adjusting the volume of your audio processor, or adjusting the microphone sensitivity, are two of the most effective. It’s easy to make these changes, because all you need is your FineTuner: push the Volume buttons up or down to adjust the volume, push the Sensitivity buttons up or down to adjust the microphone’s sensitivity.
These will adjust how you hear all sounds, not just the uncomfortable one, so use them carefully and make a balance. You want to be able to hear all sounds so that your brain can adjust to them while at the same time hearing comfortably. If the uncomfortable sounds happen only in a specific environment, you might want to change the volume or microphone settings only in that environment.
Both of these can provide short-term help but you shouldn’t learn to rely on them. Instead, talk with your audiologist because these changes can indicate that your map should be changed—you’re basically making temporary changes to the map through your FineTuner—and that these map changes can help you hear more comfortably.
Talk to Your Audiologist
Sometimes you’ll hear unpleasant sounds even if you’ve had your cochlear implant for a year or more. For example, if you’ve just had a new map programmed in it might be really sensitive to a certain sound or frequency. Or it could happen if you change or upgrade you audio processor to a newer technology, like a sound coding strategy; in these cases your brain might take a little longer to adjust than if you had just a simple map change.
Regardless of when this happens it’s important to let your audiologist know right away because it might need just a small tweak of your map to get you back to hearing comfortably.
What should you tell your audiologist? As much as you can, such as:
- What specific sound(s) bother(s) you
- What environments you’re in when you hear this sound
- How often you hear the sound
- How often it bothers you
By giving this information to your audiologist you can help him or her to make the best adjustments to your map. Once you’ve got that new map then it’s time to go out and start listening. After all, practice makes perfect! Pretty soon your brain should adapt to these sounds and you can go on enjoying all of the sounds.