Hearing management

Updated 14 December 2017

The gift of hearing

"Harmony!" That’s what Caren Yssel says digital hearing aids have given her – in more ways than one.


"Harmony!" That’s what Caren Yssel says digital hearing aids have given her – in more ways than one. She literally hears more harmony when she plays the organ. She feels more harmony at home now that she can hear her friends and family. And she senses more harmony in her life without the stress and exhaustion of hearing loss.

“It has been an interesting journey for me,” she says. “It’s like a whole new world has opened up for me. Hearing aids make a huge difference.”

Early hearing problems

Caren, 44, is a qualified general practitioner as well as a musician. She first noticed her hearing loss as a child. "I don’t exactly know when the hearing loss actually started; I know that I always struggled with my stethoscope a bit more than the other medical students, but I thought my anxiety related to my stethoscope was to blame and made it even worse," added Caren. 

She ignored it until 2003 when she had her first hearing test. There, an audiologist told her she had mild to moderate sensorineural hearing loss in one ear. 

"I was told that nothing could be done about it and I didn’t realise I should have asked about wearing a hearing aid," says Caren. So instead of getting hearing aids she compensated by using her other ear.

That didn’t always work. Caren couldn’t hear through her stethoscope in her job as a doctor. She couldn’t hear her husband from another room. Speaking in groups was tiring and stressful.

By the time she went back to her audiologist in 2012, the hearing test results revealed that her hearing loss had become much worse. She was fitted with two WIDEX CLEAR 220 hearing aids and started to use DEX hearing aid accessories with her cell phone.

That’s when her life changed.

An easier life

Change came almost immediately, starting with her organ playing. Organists choose registrations when they play to make the music come together – and Caren’s choices changed quite dramatically. Before hearing aids she had to tone down the higher pitches to compensate for her hearing loss. She also realised she was playing too loudly.

With hearing aids, Caren says that “suddenly the king of instruments came into balance”. Caren is now also a music teacher at the local music centre.

Caren's career as doctor has also improved including communicating with patients. "As a doctor, communication with patients is much easier. Now they actually ask me to repeat myself (apparently I speak softer now).

Using my stethoscope is still a temporary challenge as there are now digital stethoscopes and I’m currently shopping around for one I can use with my M-DEX," says Caren.

Things changed at home as well. Caren now speaks more softly because she can hear her own voice better.

“And now my friends are the ones asking me to repeat things,” she says. “Sometimes I think they’re the ones who need hearing tests.”

A good look for great sound

Like many people with hearing loss, Caren wondered how hearing aids would look in her ears. But even with short hair she says they are discreet. People who do notice respond by being amazed how such small hearing aids can make such a big difference.

Caren's audiologist warned her that when using the hearing aid for the very first time all the surrounding sounds would be amplified, as the brain would need to learn which sounds to filter out.  "My voice sounded like I was speaking through a PA system and when someone opened the tap in their kitchen it sounded like a waterfall!" exclaimed Caren. 

Luckily with this hearing aid the frequencies can be programmed individually. "My model had 3 settings I could choose from, depending on specific situations. The “Master” setting is the default and we chose “Comfort” for those very noisy situations and “Audibility Extender” specifically designed to hear those elusive high frequency, soft sounds like the “s and f’s”. This setting, I found out later, was very useful for me as a musician."

For Caren, however, the looks don’t matter so much – it’s the sound that counts.

“When we have hearing loss, it takes a lot of energy just trying to understand what the world is saying,” she says. “Hearing aids take that problem away.”

What is sensorineural hearing loss?

Sensorineural hearing loss is a hearing loss occurring in the inner ear or nerve fibres.


A number of conditions may cause sensorineural hearing loss. The main culprits are:

 - Ageing
 - Heredity
 - Illness
 - Congenital conditions
 - Trauma to the ear

Is there a cure for sensorineural hearing loss?

There is no known cure for sensorineural hearing loss, but the use of hearing aids can help to significantly improve levels of hearing for those affected.

(Sources: Widex and Caren Yssel)


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Ask the Expert

Hearing Expert

Dr Kara Hoffman graduated from UCT in 2004, thereafter she completed her year of community service in Durban. In 2010 she completed her Masters Degree in Paediatric Aural Rehabilitation from UKZN. In 2016, she became a Doctor of Audiology through the University of Arizona (ATSU). Dr Hoffman and her partner Lauren Thompson opened a fully diagnostic audiology practice called Thompson & Hoffman Audiology Inc. In 2011 with world-class technology and equipment to be able to offer the broad public all hearing-related services including hearing testing for adults and babies, vestibular (balance) assessments and rehabilitation, industrial audiology, hearing devices, central auditory processing assessments for school-aged children, school screening, neonatal hearing screening programmes at Alberlito and Parklands Hospital, cochlear implants and other implantable devices, medicolegal assessments and advanced electroacoustic assessments of hearing. Thompson and Hoffman Audiology Inc. are based at Alberlito Hospital in Ballito, St Augustines Hospital in Durban and at 345 Essenwood Road, Musgrave. The practices are all wheelchair friendly. There are three audiologists that practice from Thompson & Hoffman – including Dr Kara Hoffman, Lauren Thompson & Minette Lister. The practice boasts professional, highly qualified, and extensive diagnostic services where all your hearing healthcare needs can be met. The additional licensing in vestibular assessment and rehabilitation, paediatric rehabilitation and cochlear implantation places this practice in one of the top specialist audiological positions in South Africa, with a wealth of experience in all clinical areas of audiology and is a very well respected and sought-after practice.

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