Having a BAHA is a life-changing decision, it’s the best decision my parents have ever made. The people thinking of having a BAHA for themselves or their children are lucky enough these days to trial it on ‘softband’ (a BAHA on a ‘soft headband’ without the titanium fixture). That luxury wasn’t around 20 years ago, my parents were essentially going ahead with something that they didn’t have a clue about. There was very little research in those days (why am I making myself sound so old?), but my parents trusted the words of consultants and audiologists. Thank God they did. I’ve been fortunate and blessed to be have such an amazing team supporting me through the years.
Today, I’m grateful to be in a position to share my experiences and hopefully provide some reassurance and advice. I’ve been asked many things about my experiences, so I think now would be a good time to write them all down. Please remember that every person is different, just because certain things have happened to me, does not mean every person will also experience them too.
It’s safe to say that it has been quite a rollercoaster ride, there have been many ups and downs. The area around the abutment (screw) needs to be kept clean and free from debris. As I was only 5 at the time of receiving my BAHA, my parents had the task of cleaning the abutment everyday. This just involved taking cotton buds and wiping around and underneath the screw. Simples – if everything is okay.
Some time ago, soft baby toothbrushes were introduced to help with cleaning the screw. There are many mixed opinions about this tool. I like it, I just gently give the screw a quick brush and then when I’m out of the shower, just a quick wipe around with the cotton bud and apply a cream. However some people find the brush too harsh and prefer not to use it, which is perfectly okay. Other cleaning methods include using strips non-alcoholic baby wipes as a ‘dental floss’ around the screw. Any method is fine, as long it works for you.
Unfortunately I have very sensitive skin, all over. Especially the skin around the screw. It likes to get very dry, making it prone to inflammation leading to a bit of a sore site! It doesn’t matter how clean it is, it will somehow get inflamed every now and then, nothing serious but it just causes a bit of discomfort.
Growing up with a BAHA was an interesting journey. Everything was fine for a few years, until (I guess) hormones kicked in. With my surgery, all the hair follicles were removed. But my hair started growing, all the way up to the screw. These days, surgeons are leaving the hair follicles in place (look out for another blog post on this), without any problems. In my experience, with the hair growing there, it became a perfect breeding ground for bacteria. This lead to a few too many infections. The skin around the screw also started ‘thickening’. Part of growing up I was told. For me, this started to have an odd reaction causing a never-ending itching sensation. Of course I never scratched the site when I was awake, but when I was sleeping, there was no stopping my pesky little hands. Oh my, the infections that happened after that. And the soreness. I dread to think of it now. My parents had to resort to making me wear gloves at night!
After many journeys to the hospital (which wasn’t local), the consultant finally decided that I needed a little operation to thin down the skin around the screw and remove the hair follicles. A few weeks later I had the surgery, I was only there for the day. Woke up with the ginormous bandage on my head and waddled off home with my family. I think this was a very poignant time in my life, as it was the 1st time I actually had to live without my BAHA.
During this recovery period I had to use my BTE’s (behind the ear hearing aids). The noise, the sound clarity, the hearings aids falling off my ears every now and then..AAAHHH! It’s safe to safe to say, I couldn’t wait to have my BAHA back on. Nature had other plans. I got the mother of all infections. My parents had to rush me off back to the hospital to my lovely ENT team who were all quite intrigued with what they saw. One for the books this was. It looked awful, and felt even worse. All I wanted was to have the BAHA back and be on my merry way. They cleaned it up and prescribed some antibiotics. I was told to stay home for a few days, this was happening at the start of a new school year. I was home for about a week before I started school with those BTE’s.
Although my friends knew about my hearing aid, most of the other kids hadn’t a clue. I started getting a lot of questions and I was happy to explain about my op’ and hearing loss. I’m one of the lucky kids, as they all seemed to look out for me afterwards. I was recovering very slowly, and I even managed a week-long school trip to France and Belgium without my beloved BAHA. I look back now and wonder how on Earth I did it. A few weeks later and I got my BAHA back, and was even treated to an upgrade! Happy days!
Since then, things have been a lot better than they were. Although I do still get the flare-ups, it’s nothing I can’t handle. I just keep cleaning and applying my creams/ointments. At the end of the day, it’s a small price to pay for having something that I love! There is nothing you can’t do with this hearing aid (apart from get it wet).
The Not-so-good points:
- Wind – when it’s windy outside, I can’t hear anything apart from the wind. If you don’t know what I mean, blow into a microphone and that’s what we hear. I have to turn the BAHA off but luckily for me, my natural hearing is ‘okay’, and I can just about hear conversations if the other person is close enough.
- Wet – You can’t get the BAHA wet i.e. in the shower, swimming. I take care special care not to get it wet if it’s pouring with rain outside.
- Hats – I find I can’t wear most hats as they obstruct the BAHA and I just hear a rustling noise. For people thinking of BAHAs and need to wear helmets/hats on a regular basis, please mention this to your consultant as they may be able to alter the location of the BAHA.
- Maintenance – My story above will give an idea of the committment that is required for caring for the skin around the screw. However, not every person is the same, I know a few people who can get away with not even needing to clean it!
The Good points:
- I can hear! – the quality of sound I have, in my opinion, is amazing. Having compared the BAHA with BTE’s, the BAHA was the winner. The BTE’s though, were not digital as they are today, so things will have dramatically improved today.
- It’s discreet – I have very big hair which hides away my BAHA. But when I have my hair styled up, everyone can see it. I’m not shy about showing it anyone either when I tell them about my hearing loss/BAHA.
- I can socialise/communicate with ease: It’s given me the confidence I need. I know I’m not missing out on anything which is very important at school/work.
- No worries of ear infections – Having the BAHA means I don’t have to worry about ear infections which can occur when wearing BTE’s.
This little piece of technology has given me a quality of life that I feel I wouldn’t have, if it wasn’t for the BAHA. I can socialise and communicate with little worry, not forgetting to mention that I can hear all my favourite sounds, my elder sister giggling, my mummy singing and daddy’s words of wisdom.
Please feel free to ask any questions and I’d be grateful for your feedback.