Post by Rebecca Chang
The numbers are startling: one in six Australians is affected by hearing loss. A 2011 study found that one in five Americans aged 12 or older suffer from hearing loss. Your risk of hearing loss doubles in each decade. The hearing loss rate of people under 15 is just one percent, but it is over 75% among people above 70 years old, another example of the importance of not taking for granted the challenges caused by aging.
This is nothing new to grandchildren accustomed to having to yell so Grandma can hear them or adults who have learned to speak slowly over the phone to their aging father, for instance, but the prevalence rates are increasing in recent years. Part of this is attributed to noise-induced hearing loss from loud music and power tools, as well as newborn screening and improved adult diagnosis techniques.
Hearing loss is an outwardly invisible disability that can have wide-ranging social and family effects. It isn’t just you who suffers when you have a hearing loss – your family and friends will experience frustration in communicating with you as well. Adverse mental health effects are also recorded, as are decreased abilities to listen, respond, and enunciate properly when speaking yourself.
It is important to realize that many of these effects can be mitigated or at least counteracted in part by advances in technology and medicine. You aren’t stuck in a void of feeling ignored and under-appreciated if you’re having trouble communicating due to hearing loss!
How can you tell if you’re losing your hearing?
The signs of hearing loss are easily recognized by a simple audiology exam, but if you’re not sure whether you need it yet, consider some of these signs that you might have noticed:
* Do you have difficulty following conversations in large groups? Small ones? Even one-on-one?
* Do you find yourself saying, “What?” or “Pardon?” several times before just nodding and smiling to avoid embarrassment?
* Do people around you seem to mumble more than they used to?
* Do you notice particular trouble hearing in noisy situations like crowds, restaurants, or malls?
* Are you surprised when people say there is background music in stores and restaurants?
* Do you have trouble hearing high-pitched voices, such as those of children and women, or low-pitched voices?
* Do you need to turn your TV or radio up to a volume that other people complain about in order to understand?
* Have you found that you can’t hear crickets, birds, alarms, or other high-pitched noises that others around you can?
* Are you sleeping through your alarm clock or emergency alarms because you just don’t hear them?
These are just a few recognizable signs of a potential hearing loss. It may only be a mild hearing loss, but seeking a professional evaluation as soon as possible to tell whether you really are losing hearing is always best.
What is involved in hearing loss diagnosis and treatment?
If you suspect hearing impairment, talk to your doctor about a referral to an audiologist. This specialist performs hearing tests to check for hearing loss. You will probably be asked to listen to sounds in one ear only, pressing a button when you can hear a tone. You will hear a variety of tones from low to high pitches, and at various volumes. This is repeated for your other ear.
Through this test, your audiologist can plot the limits of your hearing against a chart of average hearing to tell whether you have any hearing loss. You may also be asked to listen to and repeat words spoken at various volumes and into one ear or both, in a quiet environment and with background noise or wind noise. This test can determine whether you struggle more than most people to hear in crowded environments.
Treatment might involve hearing aids, but don’t worry about bulky, expensive, very obvious instruments like the hearing aids of last decade. Today’s hearing aids can sometimes be worn completely in the ear canal or are small and hard to notice behind the ear. Accepting aging including hearing loss doesn’t mean you’re diminished somehow; it just means you have the strength and good sense to look for a solution! You wouldn’t live with a chronic headache every day without taking something to help you manage, so why live with hearing loss?
Hearing loss doesn’t have to detract from your quality of life. A hearing loss diagnosed as soon as possible and treated appropriately will be nigh-undetectable by those you know, and it will significantly enhance the tiny daily details like birdsong that make life interesting!
Guest post contributed by Rebecca Chang on behalf of the NHC.com.au – Rebecca is a freelance medical writer that has worked extensively with people that suffer from hearing problems. Visit the NHC website to find out more about the Ear Disease Test.