'A world of difference': Hearing aids improve life of Academy officer

Lt. Col. L. William Uhl (U.S. Air Force photo/Bill Evans)

Lt. Col. L. William Uhl (U.S. Air Force photo/Bill Evans)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- I am a lieutenant colonel, a philosophy instructor and a husband and father. I am almost 48 years old. I have hearing loss and wear hearing aids.

It was always my hope that I would never have to make that last statement but if I am to be honest, I must make it now. 

I pride myself on the precautions I've taken to protect my hearing: wearing double-hearing protection while operating lawn mowers and other power tools, refraining from using music headphones and ear buds, etc. I thought I would be one of the lucky people to never be diagnosed with hearing loss or who might need to use hearing aids.

I can't remember when it started, but my hearing changed over the last year or so. On multiple occasions, I misunderstood questions my wife asked me. My attempts to answer the questions I thought I had been asked were met with, "That's not what I asked," or "You didn't hear what I said, did you?" My wife noticed when I responded to my children's more-complicated questions with "uh-huh." My wife can watch TV with the sound turned down and catch everything being said. To mask my hearing loss I laughed when she did, but I knew fully well I didn't hear what was being said.

I also noticed changes in the classroom. I asked my students to repeat themselves but I kept that to a minimum. I felt left-out of conversations when one student across the room would make a remark and everyone responded, including the person next to me. I prefer to stand or walk around in class while I teach. Having this freedom as an instructor, I often used the walk-around style to get close to someone to hear what they were saying.

I played the blame game. I complained about people who didn't project their voices well, who mumbled or who spoke too quickly. While people with excellent hearing may not always hear everything that's being said, when everyone else is hearing what's being said - everyone but you - you begin suspecting the problem may be yours. 

In October, I scheduled a hearing test and hoped the problem might be something as simple as earwax. When the audiologist and the ear, nose and throat specialist said my ear canals were completely clean (I had used ear drops purchased at the drugstore, unbeknownst to anyone else), I feared the worst.

Earlier this month, I was fitted for hearing aids. The audiologist programmed my hearing aids to target frequencies at which I have difficulty hearing. I can adjust the volume of my hearing aids depending on the environment I'm in. I can mute them when necessary and I can program them for when I'm listening to recorded music.

What's the verdict? I love my new hearing aids. I'm not constantly asking my family or others to repeat themselves. I'm not straining to hear everything said in a classroom. While singing at choir practice last night, I found myself able to harmonize. 

If it were possible to wish my hearing back to normal, I would do so in a heartbeat. But since I can't, I rely on my hearing aids to make up for what I'm unable to hear. Much to my relief, I've learned that having to wear hearing aids is not a career-ender.

If it's been a while since you last had your hearing checked, or you think your hearing isn't what it used to be, make an appointment and find out if you need hearing aids.

Here's hoping you don't need hearing aids but if you do, I think you'll find as I have, greater happiness in hearing better. Hearing aids have made a world of difference in my life.