Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Martian Earphones

Those blue things that look like neon prosthetic devices are custom-made earbuds.

About a month ago I went to the audiologist for a hearing test. I found out I have "Freebird," a mild age-related hearing disorder caused by spending your youth in concert arenas yelling "Freebird!" The audiologist, a woman about my age, could identify with my quest for good iPod headphones. The earbuds that come with the iPod fall out of my ears if I even blink, and the over-the-head earphones are the most adjustable but cumbersome in the winter when you're wearing a hat.

She took an impression of my ears for the earbuds. They're made by the same company that makes custom-made earplugs for swimmers. She was very enthusiastic about them; so much so that I'm wary of a possible sideline business on her part.

I picked them up today and was very impressed. They blocked a lot of the ambient noise and shot warm, thumping base sound directly through the little holes. The doctor showed me how to put them in, and I finally got the hang of it after I figured out it was like giving Ashley the drops in her ears last Summer: You lift the top of the ear and then stick it in the hole.

I listened happily to a playlist of '80s synth pop as the bus crossed the park. Then, suddenly, my left ear began to itch. Badly. I took the earbud out, and it stopped. I wrangled it back in again, and the itching started again. I took it out and rubbed my ear, which was becoming sticky, and it stopped. In, out, in, out.

So I got home and left a message for the doctor, who had left for the day. She will call me back tomorrow. It's not an emergency, since it only itches when these (expensive) custom-made earbuds are in. So the only emergency operation I would need would be an "Oh God, I just bought something expensive and non-refundable, dammit"-ectomy.

It's unlikely that the itching is being caused by an allergy to rubber. I don't even know if the damn things are made of rubber. And why would just my left ear be allergic? There probably is a simple explanation for this phenomenon, and until I get it, it's back to the over-the-head phones.

Update: Okay, I spoke to the doc, and just as I had thought, the ear buds are made of silicone, not rubber. The material is supposedly hypoallergenic and is used in hearing aids for little old delicate people, who have no trouble with them. So we've narrowed it down to either the blue dye or the lubricant the doctor used to insert the ear buds the first time. (And hey, don't we all need a little lubricant the first time?)

But she did go through the trouble of ordering a pair of clear-colored ones for me to see if it's the dye. And good old alcohol will clean any lubricating product off the blue ones. So either I will end up with yet two more sets of iPod earphones that I cannot use, or they can just attach a hearing aid to one of them someday when I go deaf from all the loud music.

I have the same problem with the earbuds. I end up using the standard headphones, which is a royal pain in the gym when one tends to perspire from every pore.
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