How much do you really know about hearing loss? Whether you have been seeing an audiologist for years or you need assistance with hearing issues for the first time, it’s important to understand this common but often untreated condition. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, hearing loss affects about 15% of American adults or nearly 38 million individuals. Explore these facts about hearing loss and learn more about how treatment may improve communication ability and quality of life.
What are the Symptoms of Hearing Loss?
An individual who has difficulty hearing may display these common symptoms of hearing loss:
- Trouble understanding or following conversations
- Requiring excessive radio or TV volume
- Reliance on lip reading
- Struggling to hear in the presence of background noise
- Social withdrawal
- Mood-related symptoms such as stress, fatigue, or irritability
- Difficulty hearing when speaking on the phone
- Difficulty following a conversation involving more than one other person
- The feeling that other people are mumbling
- A buzzing, ringing, or roaring sound in the ears
- Difficulty hearing people with high-pitched voices
If you experience one or more of these symptoms or other hearing difficulties that impacts your quality of life, you could benefit from a properly fitted hearing aid.
What are the Benefits of Hearing Aids?
Although many consider hearing loss to be a normal part of aging, most individuals who experience difficulty hearing could benefit from a hearing aid. Using a hearing aid to improve one’s ability to hear is associated with not only improved hearing, but also better self-esteem, better mental and physical health, and improved relationships at school, work, and home. Conversely, untreated hearing loss is associated with the development or worsening of physical and mental health conditions, including dementia and diabetes, as well as with increased hospitalization.
Hearing loss affects the ability to communicate with loved ones and friends, which can be particularly isolating for older adults. Frustration and embarrassment often arise from struggles to understand what others are saying. People may worry that others think they are unresponsive or confused. Scientists believe that because the brain has to work harder to process sounds, other areas of cognition are impacted, thus raising the risk for conditions such as depression and dementia.
Some people wait to get hearing aids because they can still hear some sounds, or they worry that they will become too reliant on these devices. In fact, using hearing aids as soon as you notice hearing loss that impacts your life can improve the efficacy of these devices. Because your brain’s auditory system fails to receive signals when hearing is damaged, your ability to recognize sound decreases over time. The sooner the sense of hearing is restored, the easier it is for your brain to relearn to process this type of sensory input.
What are the Risk Factors for Hearing Loss?
Although aging is the biggest predictor of hearing loss, it is far from the only risk factor. Individuals with these characteristics also show a higher risk of hearing loss:
- A family history of hearing loss, since some types of hearing loss have a genetic component
- Chronic exposure to loud noises such as rock concerts, motorcycle engines, or gunshot blasts
- Occupational noise exposure, particularly among those who work in construction, agriculture, or manufacturing
- Taking certain medications, including Viagra and some chemotherapy drugs
- A history of certain illnesses, including meningitis
Noise is measured in units called decibels, or dB. Exposure to sounds louder than 85 dB, which is about the level of traffic on a busy city street, can permanently damage hearing. Fortunately, noise-induced hearing loss is completely preventable with the use of ear protection. You should also avoid listening to loud music through headphones.
What Types of Hearing Loss are Common Among Older Adults?
Age-related hearing loss, called presbycusis, is common among those older than 50 and may go undiagnosed because it typically develops gradually. This type of hearing loss limits the ability to detect higher frequencies and tolerate loud sounds. Doctors don’t know exactly why some people’s ability to hear declines with age, but we do know that a family history of presbycusis is a risk factor for this condition.
Many seniors also experience tinnitus, a persistent ringing, buzzing, or hissing sound in the ears. People who have presbycusis may also develop tinnitus, which is also associated with certain prescription drugs, cardiac issues, allergies, and ongoing noise exposure.
What are Some of the Most Common Hearing Loss Myths?
Many people think that only older adults experience hearing loss. While this issue is certainly more common among seniors, it can impact individuals of all ages. According to the NIDCD, hearing loss is most prevalent in the 60 to 69 age group but also affects 30 million individuals age 12 and older, including two percent of those ages 45 to 54. In addition, the Hearing Health Foundation reports that one in five teens shows signs of hearing loss in at least one ear, often because of using personal audio devices at an unsafe volume.
Some people think that if they had a hearing problem, it would have been recognized by their doctor by now. However, many doctors do not routinely screen for hearing loss, so it typically goes undiagnosed when people do not report their symptoms to health care providers.
One of the most pervasive hearing aid myths is that these devices are difficult to use and don’t work well. Although it can take some time to get used to hearing aids, over time, most users of these devices report improved quality of life and a better ability to communicate. For example, some people find that their voice sounds louder, but this sensation usually diminishes over time. Keep in mind that your brain is processing new sounds you have not been able to hear well in many years. Often, patients take about 60 days to adapt to the dramatic increase in sensory information.
Although hearing aids were once large, bulky, and uncomfortable, new technology makes it possible to use a small, nearly invisible hearing aid designed for your specific anatomy. Feedback noises, the feeling of pressure, and annoying whistling sounds are usually associated with an incorrect fit, which can easily be corrected by your audiologist.
While hearing aids do make a big difference in communication ability, they do not restore perfect hearing. Many people mistakenly think that hearing aids correct your hearing the same way that glasses can restore perfect vision. In fact, fine-tuning and regular use helps your hearing improve over time when you use a hearing aid as recommended by your audiologist.
Another common myth is that wearing just one hearing aid will improve your hearing sufficiently. In fact, auditory processing requires input from both ears to be effective.
How Can I Get Used to a New Hearing Aid?
When you receive it, begin wearing your new hearing aid for short periods, and gradually extend the amount of time until you are using the device regularly. Test the hearing aid in quiet environments such as your home before trying it out in noisier settings like a party or while shopping. Write down your questions and concerns so you can address them with your audiologist at your follow-up appointment. Remember to keep your hearing aids dry, avoid using hair spray and other products that may damage the device, and replace the batteries as needed.
Metro Hearing has been helping Arizona clients hear better since 1980. If you have noticed the signs of hearing loss, we will conduct a thorough evaluation and determine whether hearing aids could help restore your ability to hear. Contact us today to schedule your appointment.
Hearing loss is a common, but often-untreated condition. But, better hearing is achievable by taking the right steps.
- Approximately 36 million Americans have some degree of hearing loss.
- 90% of cases could be helped with a hearing aid
- Untreated hearing loss has been linked to increased hospitalizations and decreased physical and mental health.
- Additionally, there is a strong association between hearing loss and diabetes and dementia.
- Hearing loss is the 3rd most common health problem in the U.S.
- Excessive loud noise is one of the leading causes of hearing loss.
Symptoms of Hearing Loss:
- Hearing but not understanding
- Turning up the volume on devices like the TV or radio
- Difficulty following conversations
- Finding it necessary to lip read
- Inability to hear over background noises
- Feeling irritable, fatigued or stressed
- Withdrawing from social situations
How Hearing Aids Can Help:
- Improved hearing
- Increased self-esteem
- Improved mental and physical health
- Enhanced social and workplace interactions
- Enriched relationships with friends and family
Hearing Aid Myths:
- Nothing can be done to help hearing loss
- Hearing aids can help in most cases of hearing loss
- Hearing aids are large and unsightly
- New, modern styles of hearing aids are often almost invisible
- Hearing loss only happens to seniors
- Hearing loss can affect anyone regardless of age