The Ups and Downs of Bone Anchored Hearing Aids

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.

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27 thoughts on “The Ups and Downs of Bone Anchored Hearing Aids

  1. Wow, thanks for sharing your experiences. I’m 35 (from Australia) and have had hearing loss all my life. I am now at a point where I have to consider closing off the ear canal and getting a BAHA implant. Scary stuff and lots to consider – but reading your story has helped. I’m curious about a couple of things… 1. after the surgery was the recovery painful? and 2. when you sleep at night is it uncomfortable?

    • Hi Liz, Many thanks for your comment. You will feel a little sore and tender for a few days after the surgery, its more uncomfortable than painful and it may be better not to sleep on that side during the healing process. However after everything has healed, you barely notice it’s there and you can sleep as normal! I’ve never heard of the ear canal being closed off, how are they going to do that?! Feel free to ask me anything (theres no such thing as a silly question on here), I’m happy to help 🙂

  2. Thanks Arti. I guess I’m not sure what to expect as I have never had to drill something into my bones before… and I imagine I’ll probably have a headache for a few days. The closing of the ear canal is an irreversible procedure – and it is done by cutting behind the ear and getting access to the canal from there. (The terminology used is “Blind Sac Closure”.) It’s truly amazing what doctors can do these days!

    • Wow! That procedure sounds a lot more complicated than the BAHA surgery. I’m guessing ear infections have been too common with you? Let me know how that goes for you 🙂

  3. I’m curious as to what type of cream you are using around the implant. My husband has the BAHA and probably gets infections about 7-8 times per year. (many times they are stapf infections) The doctor has even mentioned that his body is rejecting the implant and maybe we should consider removing it. Thoughts???

    • Hi Christy, thank you for your comment, sorry to hear about your husbands troubles. Although it is very very rare, there are instances where the body can reject an implant. Would you be able to descibe what happens when there is an infection and how long he has had the implant please? I do regularly get infections, but nothing serious, just more of an irritation. I use betnovate ointment (which is a very strong anti-inflammatory ointment and should not be used long-term) when it’s sore. When I have an infection I tend to use Trimovate which contains an antibacterial/antibiotic. When all is ‘normal’, I keep it moiste by using savlon antiseptic cream or E-45 cream. I’m not a doctor so please seek advice from your doctor. Thank you

  4. Hi Arti, your story is very motivating. I have been wearing a BAHA for almost 22 years now and I can’t do with out it! However in the recent years, I have been developing irritable infection (bleeding too) at the BAHA site causing my head to hurt among other things. I used to blame it on the heat or excessive water close to the screw. Please can you tell me how you clean the wound and how long does it take for the inflammation to calm down. Thank you 🙂

    • Hi Sharmeen, thanks for your kind words and reading my blog! I also suffer from frequent inflammation but nothing to serious or painful. I try not to touch the site very much. When I’ve washed my hair, I just wet a few cotton balls and go around the abutment with it. If its feeling tender then I apply a prescribed ointment. I don’t use the brush anymore and it’s been slightly better since I stopped using it. If it does get inflamed then it normally clears after 5 days and using the ointment for a few days. Any longer then that and I’d suggest going to see a doctor and making sure it’s not infected, if it is then normally antibiotics does the trick. I hope this helps a bit but please do let me know how you get on! Arti

  5. Help! I hope you get this message. I have had my BAHA for around 10 years. I love it. I am a retired special needs teacher and my last years of teaching were better because of it. The last two nights I have been unable to sleep on the side of my BAHA. It is very painful all around the abutment. It is Sunday here and I will call the doctor tomorrow. My whole jaw and side of head are sore.
    Has this ever happened to you?
    Thank you.
    Pattie

  6. Ooops, pressed send to early! It sounds like you need to see a medical professional as soon as possible. Can you get to the a+e dept? I had something similar many years ago and it was an infection but cleared with antibiotics. Have you applied any medicine and taken some painkillers? A cold compress may help the jaw and head pain. Wishing you a speedy recovery, please keep me updated if you can.

  7. Hello!! I just had my BAHA surgery two days ago and cannot wait to get the device in a few weeks! I am wondering, have you ever slept with your BAHA on or do you need to take it off at night? What do you do to protect the site when you’re swimming? Thanks!

    • Congratulations! For me, It’s probably best to take the baha off when sleeping to protect from damage.. It’s not very nice for me to wake up to the squeal when I move around in my sleep! I do sometimes take a nap with it on though..when swimming I just apply a bit of vaseline around the screw and wash well after the swim! Thanks for reading the blog 🙂

  8. I am 77 year old female & received my BAHA 5 months ago. It is a life saver. I have my life back. I can hear everything. I do have “one” question. You mention cleaning the abutment & putting on a cream everyday. WHAT KIND OF CREAM DO YOU USE? What is Savlon cream or E-45 that you mentioned. I live in the states & it might just be under a different name. What are the ingredients in them. Do you put the cream on everyday before attaching the BAHA or only when there is an irritation.

    • Hi Roslyn, thanks for reading the blog, there’s no subscription charge and you’ll get my next post straight to your inbox! If you get any antiseptic cream from the pharmacy, it should do, maybe ask the pharmacist there for advice? I don’t apply everyday, just when it’s feeling a little dry and tight, maybe about once or twice a month. I hope you’re enjoying the baha and please keep in touch 😃

  9. Been diagnosed with unilateral hearing loss since 1998 when I was 7, but didn’t hear about the BAHA until discussing my pregnancy with my ENT doctor in 2012. She said I should keep it or the cochlear implant in mind, and the older my kids get, the more I’m considering it. However, I was told in the 90s, early 00s that nerve damage would keep me from being a candidate for the cochlear.
    Suppose I’ll have to discuss that with a doctor soon. As much as I’ve gotten used to not hearing out of one ear, I would like to hear my daughters better.
    Does it squeal like hearing aids sometimes do? Or does the processor rub? BTE hearing aids used to aggravate my canal and behind my ear a lot, so I haven’t worn one in about 14 years.

    • Hi Alyssa, thanks for your post and reading the blog. Unfortunately like all hearing aids, the baha does squeal occasionally, but normally only when it’s touched. The baha itself doesn’t rub on anything, unless you have the magnet version. However if you have sensori neural hearing loss, I’m not sure about your suitability for the baha, please do speak with your doctor and audiologist! I’m happy to answer any questions you may. 😊

  10. I’m scheduled for my BAHA surgery on 10th August, I’ve been wearing a trial on a softband and already the results are amazing, I really can hear everything!!!!
    I’m just wondering how long after the abutment is fitted will I get the processor?
    Also what cream do you use when the implant site goes dry?
    I’m guessing keeping it all clean is a religious process but BTE’s are not for me due to the persistent infections I suffer in both ears so will definitely be well worth it!!

    • Hi marysia, thanks for your post. Congratulations on your surgery date! It’s great to see you got on well with the headband, the abutment will be even better! Fitting times vary between departments but I think it will be at 1 month, it is something you might want to check with the hospital before your surgery. Using a bit of savlon or vaseline is good when dry, but do not use anything other than what the Dr prescribes after the surgery. Hopefully you won’t have any problems, please do let us know how you get on! Here to help if you have any questions 😊

  11. Hello,
    I got my BAHA late last year and I LOVE being able to finally hear properly. I’ve been deaf in one ear from just a few months old due to ear infections not long after birth. The other ear operates at about 40% hearing or less. The only issue I keep having is infections!! And it doesn’t matter how often or how well I clean it. I soak a cotton ball with peroxide and rub it around the implant at least twice a day and use an antibiotic cream on it every night before bed. Sometimes I use a cotton swab soaked in peroxide too. However, about every 2 months or so I get an infection and it hurts so bad!! I have yet another one today and have to go see the surgeon this afternoon. UGH. But if this is the price I have to pay for finally being able to hear after 52 years………I’ll pay it!!! I wasn’t a good candidate for BTE units due to constant ear infections and severe structural damage to the bones inside of one ear. They tried BTEs on me when I was a child, but I didn’t see much of an improvement in hearing so I stopped wearing them. Back then they were huge and very noticeable, so it’s not something a kid wants to wear to school!! I’m SO GLAD they invented the BAHA!!!

  12. Thanks for posting this! I’ve had conductive hearing loss in my left ear since I was about two after having a cholesteatoma removed. I’ve been using a BTE hearing aid since I was 9 (now 19) and while the old ones were iffy, they have definitely improved over the years! Recently my audiologist suggested considering a BAHA as the cost of the device will be covered by my government until I’m 23. My hearing and ear health has been pretty stable for some time now and I’m generally happy with my hearing aid but wasn’t aware of the BAHA option. I figure it is something I should consider if it is going to provide me a better hearing experience, however the invasiveness concerns me. Considering I have not had an ear infection in over a decade, and I am happy with the experience my BTE hearing aid provides me, I’m just wondering if it is worth going through the surgery and maintenance to get the BAHA? Also, my audiologist described it to me as a magnet rather than a screw, is this what you have or is this something different? I only had a brief conversation with my audiologist and am currently doing my own research to see if it is worth pursuing. Any advice would be greatly appreciated! Thank you!!!

    • Hi Tamika, thanks for your comment… I have the baha with an abutment, not the magnet. I’d suggest double checking that your hearing loss is suitable for the magnet versions of the baha. The maintenance side may be a pain in the arse sometimes but the quality of hearing I get definitely makes it all worth it. Try and get a softband trial as this will help you and give you an indication of how much benefit you get. I hope this helps and please ask lots of questions! Good luck 🍀

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