Helen (76 years old), from Bath, is a retired university counsellor and keen singer in her community choir. Over twenty years ago, she began noticing issues with her hearing. After a test she was given hearing aids with moulds, but not shown how to use them. She later found out she had been given two left moulds.
With help from an NHS audiologist, she was given support with new hearing aids. However, Helen noticed a significant build-up of wax which was impairing her hearing. She became desperate to get her hearing back and with no NHS earwax removal service in her area, paid £80 privately for removal.
Helen subsequently found a cheaper private service and is now paying to have it removed four times a year at an annual cost of £240. Helen shares her story with us and explains that getting her earwax removed is imperative for her wellbeing and without it, the future would be bleak.
Starting to see the signs: Helen’s story
I was working as a university counsellor seeing lots of young people with mental health difficulties and became increasingly aware that I was unable to hear young women with higher-pitched voices. It was important in being an emphatic listener, that they were able to speak however they wished, and I would pick up on what they were saying and the tone in which they spoke. This was about 25 years ago.
My first hearing test was contracted out to a private company, and I was prescribed moulds straight away. However, I received them with no help to fit them and it was later discovered by an NHS audiologist that I had been given two left ear moulds. I didn’t get on with them very well and so continued without them.
A costly service
An appointment with an NHS audiologist later was helpful. He thought I didn’t need moulds at that stage, and until recently managed well with my open fitting hearing aid. However, I found I had a great deal of earwax build-up and had to go four times a year to have the earwax removed, as there is no service available through my GP. This cost me £240. I now have moulds again which have improved my hearing a lot, and there is slightly less ear wax build up. I now might need to go two or three times a year, which is still costly.
When the wax builds up, I find it very difficult. I’m part of two community choirs and I found it harder to join in partly because I was unable to hear what the choir leader was saying. I also worried about singing out of tune. I lost some of my confidence and became more unable to follow conversations.
Isolation and withdrawal
It became annoying and difficult for my family and my friend who lives with me to have conversations. It led to increased isolation, and I found I was withdrawing. It was inevitable that I had to withdraw as I felt I didn’t have a choice. My mental health is very good, but I thought to myself ‘oh god this is really hard’, it’s not going to get any better. I saw the future as very grim, and I don’t think I’m alone in having thought that because of ear wax build up.
I was so desperate that I paid £80 to have my earwax removed privately. It made a huge difference to my hearing and quality of life. I’m a sociable person, I volunteer at a food bank, I’m part of an art group and cook for a lunch club and I love the cinema. All these rely on me being able to hear properly.
I’m so grateful that technology (e.g., being able to link my mobile to my hearing aids), good support from my current audiologist and the services available to me enable me to lead an active social life. It is a shame I must pay privately for the earwax service, but it really is a necessity for my wellbeing.