Saturday 9 December 2023

Losing It

'Take a seat, Mr Haig.'

I sat.

Next, a number of questions, which I answered as honestly and helpfully as I could.

Then, leaning forward: 'Okay, before we can carry out the test I just need to take a look...'

A few seconds later: 'Well...' and a sigh of disappointment.

Apparently my right eardrum was invisible, completely hidden by a wall of wax. The left side was partially blocked too. No hearing test today. I promised to get them sorted out asap, and rebooked.

A week's dosing with the excellently named Earol was followed by a short but satisfying micro-suction session at a back-alley clinic in town. The chirpy earwax removal chap took great delight in showing me the whopping nuggets of gloop thus extracted.

A few days later: 'Take a seat, Mr Haig.'

A much happier audiologist positively gushed at the sight of my straight, wide, apparently healthy - and now empty - ear canals.

'Wonderful! Wonderful! What a pair of beauties!'

The hearing test was straightforward enough. You wear headphones and listen for sounds, pressing the button on a hand-held pad whenever you hear one. I was occasionally fooled by the faint throb of a drill in a neighbouring property under renovation, but I doubt it made a lot of difference to the result. The result? Hmmm, yes. The result...

My audiogram - explanation below

In the chart above, the black lines represent my hearing thresholds for both ears at various frequencies, where O = right ear and X = left. The blue and red lines are nicked from a 2021 paper in The Lancet medical journal, and represent mean thresholds for Japanese men tested in a massive study involving thousands of participants. Blue = men in the age bracket 30-39; red = age 65-69.

According to the audiologist I saw my hearing is fairly typical of someone my age, and nothing to worry about. He reckoned that hearing aids were unnecessary. Back home I did a bit of googling and came across the Lancet paper. I am not quite in the 65-69 bracket yet, but already I seem to be slightly more deaf than a lot of Japanese blokes older than me. The good news is that I can hear speech okay, most of which registers in the lower frequencies. However, for me the higher frequencies are fading all too rapidly. The audiogram has frequency (in Hz) along the bottom axis and decibels up the side. A lot of birds - like Redwing and Firecrest, say - register at around 7-8000 Hz, which is pretty inconsiderate of them. But there is even worse news...

The decibel scale is not linear; it is logarithmic. As I understand it, what this means in practice is that an increase of ten decibels basically doubles the loudness of a sound. In other words, the ear perceives 30 decibels as twice the loudness of 20 decibels, and 40 decibels as twice the loudness of 30, and so on. Which means - looking at the audiogram above - that the faint 10-decibel Redwing call which the average 35 year-old Japanese birder can just about hear needs to be roughly THIRTY-TWO times as loud before my left ear can detect it.


It would be easy to see this in a very negative light, but I am grimly hanging on to my 'late middle-age' status while I still can. After moaning about one or more of the joyous delights that come with decrepitude, an elderly friend is fond of shaking his head and saying, 'Don't get old, Gavin.' To be honest though, I'll happily take that over the alternative.


  1. Seems I've lucked out in the lug-hole department Gav. On-line frequency hearing test has me down as having fifty* year old ears. Me, not being much bigger than a mouse could be behind the reason. *12.900Hz
    Maybe you could be down at the infra-sound end of the spectrum? I understand that eleph....**

    **I'll get me coat! 😉

    1. Red flag for size-ist comment! 😄

    2. Gav, as a former engineer in R&D I learned early on that anything that one can imagine as a solution for an everyday practical problem already exists. So, for loss of high frequency in the hearing range, there are solutions: The best hearing aids for high frequency hearing loss are the Phonak Audeo P, Oticon More™, and Signia Pure hearing aids.

    3. Ah, thanks Ric. I did wonder if hearing aids could be set up to enhance specific frequency ranges, but hadn't done any research yet. I shall probably just live with it for the time being though.

  2. Having perforated my left eardrum a couple of times, I do find myself asking "What?" too often but, I catch the repeated words. I think that as we age so our hearing becomes more directional whereas women have a 360 degree monitoring system tuned into gossip and my mistakes.
    But you are okay for now Gav, let us know when it deteriorates and we can reply to your posts in block capitals ;o)

  3. I discovered a couple of years ago that I had almost lost the ability to hear Tree Pipit call unless very close. This was revealed in the most galling fashion when my phone, running Merlin picked out a Tree Pipit that I hadn't heard at all (it would have been a local patch first - it is a rare bird in Oxfordshire these days). There was no doubt from the sonogram...

    1. I know that feeling. Doing vis-mig with Tom Brereton brought it home to me. I never hear birds first, and very often not at all! A perched Cirl Bunting was calling loud enough for my recorder to pick up nicely, but I could hear nothing.

  4. A good friend of mine, my age, recently got hearing aids. They are apparently very discreet these days, a far cry from the enormous things of yesteryear.

    I have probably been middle-aged since I was about 20, but some of the physical realities are now driving me nuts. Having to wear glasses in any situation involving text or low light is currently the most annoying aspect, followed closely by needing to get up in the night. From what I've heard though this is a dream quality of life and I need to embrace it before the real fun starts.

    1. I clearly remember a time of 20/20 vision, acute hearing and regular half-marathons. It's little wonder that older folks get grumpy.

  5. Oh lord, I think I need to go for a test, too. Can't hear Goldcrest, Redwing in flight, Yellow Wags, Corn Bunting (unless very close) etc. Can I ask which 'back st clinic' you used, Gav?

    1. A bit depressing isn't it? Relevant details WhatsApped. 😊 👍

  6. Tree-creepers at 50 yards? Last dates heard - Nearest decade or century?