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Audiology services and hearing care at home - coronavirus info for families of deaf children

Published Date: 24 Jul 2020

Hearing aids and cochlear implants

Audiology services are now re-opening to provide face-to-face appointments. You will find that this is happening at different rates across the country depending on local plans. You will also find that the way your support is provided has changed with remote support always as the first step. This will include a call by telephone, video or email/text to provide help, arrange to post out any supplies needed, complete questionnaires as part of assessing your child’s use and benefit of their hearing devices, and triaging the need to come in for a face-to-face appointment.

If after this call you are asked to attend in person you will notice lots of changes to your audiology clinic. These have all been made to protect you, staff, and reduce the amount of social contact with members of the public who are more vulnerable to coronavirus.

Changes that you are likely to see include:

  • Being asked to stay outside the building in the hospital grounds until you are messaged to be called in for your appointment.
  • No, or very limited waiting areas inside the hospital.
  • Limiting of one adult attending with each child
  • Staff wearing PPE and masks.
  • You and your child (if they are 3 or over) will be asked to wear a mask on arrival.
  • The use of Perspex screens in smaller clinic rooms as a barrier between staff and patients.

In areas where audiology is not yet open for routine face-to-face appointments and you and your child’s audiologist feel that the child needs to be seen, their audiologist will make decisions on a case-by-case basis depending on whether they have facilities, staff and personal protective equipment available, and what the level of coronavirus risk is locally at the time.

Do not go to the audiology clinic unless you have spoken to your audiologist first and they have asked you to attend.

You can find the contact details of your audiology department at the top of any letters/reports they have sent you, inside the cover of your child’s “brown book” (“yellow book” in Scotland), or on their website or social media channels.

Repairing your child's hearing aids

All audiology services offer a postal repair service. Make sure you remove the battery before putting the hearing aid in the post. If it is safe to do so, they may also have a box at clinic reception where faulty hearing aids can be left for repair (a friend or family member could drop it off for you if you can’t go yourself). You will then be able to collect the hearing aid the following day, or it may be dropped off to your home, or posted back to you. Phone, text or email your audiology clinic to find out how to get a repair locally.

Take a look at our blogs on caring for your child’s hearing aids at home and troubleshooting technology for some hints, tips and resources in this area.

Batteries

It is sensible to make sure you have a supply of batteries in advance and the NHS will continue to supply at least two packets per hearing aid at any one time. Don’t wait until you have run out to request new ones. Call or email your audiology clinic and they will arrange to post new batteries out to you.  

In an emergency, if you do run out and can’t get replacements from your usual NHS service, you can buy hearing aid batteries from Boots and other chemists, high street hearing aid dispensers or opticians.

Earmoulds

New earmoulds for children are being made without impressions when possible. Manufacturers are re-printing moulds (based on stored scans of impressions) where available, adding a small percentage for growth and then posting to the family. Where scans are not available, services may ask you to post in one of your child’s earmoulds at a time (so that they are not without amplification altogether) and a remake can then be made from this. These are not perfect solutions, but are working for some children. Where impressions are considered necessary, services will arrange a face-to-face appointment. Contact your audiologist for advice if your child needs them.

NHS and routine surgery

The NHS has started to carry out some routine (elective) surgery again. Elective surgery includes grommet surgery for glue ear, bone anchored hearing aids and cochlear implant surgery on older children.

Each hospital will make decisions on surgery on a case-by-case basis, depending on whether they have facilities, staff and personal protective equipment available, and what the level of coronavirus risk is locally at the time. It is likely that routine surgeries will resume at different times across the country depending on the local risk at the time.

Due to the nature of Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) surgery, and working in close proximity to the respiratory system, many of the procedures carry significant risk of passing coronavirus between patients and staff. ENT surgeons have been working hard to identify new ways of carrying out their surgery procedures using PPE and other new protective measures.

Due to a backlog of patients on waiting lists, the risks involved in individual types of surgery, new infection control measures which limit the number of surgeries that can be undertaken in one operating theatre each day, the need to maintain space for emergency surgery, and competition for theatre space with surgeons who look after other health conditions, a prioritisation exercise has been undertaken by the Royal College of Surgeons. Prioritisation goes from 1 (the highest priority – operation needed within 24 hours) to 4 (operation can safely wait more than 3 months):

Priority 2 - Procedures to be performed in < 1 months

  • Cochlear implantation post-meningitis

Priority 3 - Procedures to be performed in < 3 months

  • Cochlear implants for children with pre-verbal profound hearing loss where delay will impact on long term outcome

Priority 4 - Procedures to be performed in > 3 months

  • Grommets for glue ear
  • Other cochlear implants

If you are given a date for your child’s surgery you will find that there will be additional safety measures put in place. For example, you and your child will be tested for coronavirus beforehand.

If you think changes to surgical priorities is likely to impact your child, have a chat with your doctor and audiologist to find out if there are any other options (such as temporary hearing aids if grommet surgery is not possible) and if there is anything else that can be done to support your child in the meantime.