Helpful information about hearing loss
For those of us who have lived most of our lives with normal hearing, we may not give our hearing a second thought. Unlike our other senses, hearing is always on – we do not shut our ears off, as we would close our eyes or prefer not to taste something. Even when we are sleeping, our ears are still functioning, an inheritance from our ancestors.
How common is hearing loss?
As we age, our hearing abilities naturally begin to decline. Currently, 48 million Americans, or 20% of the population, experience some degree of hearing loss. The number rises for people over the age of 65, with a staggering 30% of older Americans experiencing some degree of hearing loss. As it stands, hearing loss is the third most common physical condition in the US, after heart disease and arthritis.
What causes hearing loss?
Anyone, at any age, can experience hearing loss. Hearing loss may occur due to a number of factors, biological or environmental. One common causal factor of hearing loss is exposure to loud noises, both an occupational hazard and more recently, a recreational one. With the convenience of earbuds and personal electronic devices, the number of younger people experiencing early signs of hearing loss has increased. Age-related hearing loss, or presbycusis, is another common form of the condition. As we age, the hair cells in our inner ear die and do not regenerate, which leads to difficulties with processing sound. Other potential causes include congenital conditions, ear infections, malformation of ear bones, certain medications, and head or neck trauma.
The consequences of untreated hearing loss
While hearing loss is a common condition, it should not be taken lightly or go untreated. Untreated hearing loss, over the long term, leads to greater health issues. Recent studies from Johns Hopkins University have found potential links between untreated hearing loss and dementia, with the suggestion that when the brain struggles to hear, the cognitive load tires out parts of the brain. Researchers found that subjects with untreated hearing loss had three times the risk of developing dementia.
Another study, concerning a link between hospitalizations and hearing loss, found that older adults (ages 70 to 79) with untreated hearing loss had a 17% to 19% higher risk of being hospitalized than people in the same age range with normal hearing. Hearing loss, in general, has been found to cause higher levels of anxiety and stress, as well as depression, if left untreated. The areas of the brain that process sound also process balance and language; untreated hearing loss leads to difficulties with speech recognition, as well as balance, which causes safety concerns in older people living alone. Social isolation is another great risk of untreated hearing loss; when people have difficulty hearing in noisier settings and cannot easily discern voices in cross-conversations, they tend to retreat and avoid activities they once enjoyed.
What are some common signs of hearing loss?
Symptoms of hearing loss may be noticed socially, emotionally, and medically. You or someone close to you may . . .
• require frequent repetition.
• have difficulty following conversations involving more than 2 people.
• think that other people sound muffled or like they’re mumbling.
• have difficulty hearing in noisy situations, like conferences, restaurants, malls, or crowded meeting rooms.
• have trouble hearing children and women.
• have your TV or radio turned up to a high volume.
• answer or respond inappropriately in conversations.
• have ringing in your ears.
• read lips or more intently watch people’s faces when they speak with you.
• feel stressed out from straining to hear what others are saying.
• feel annoyed at other people because you can’t hear or understand them.
• feel embarrassed to meet new people or from misunderstanding what others are saying.
• feel nervous about trying to hear and understand.
• withdraw from social situations that you once enjoyed because of difficulty hearing.
• have a family history of hearing loss.
• take medications that can harm the hearing system (ototoxic drugs).
• have diabetes, heart, circulation or thyroid problems.
• have been exposed to very loud sounds over a long period or single exposure to explosive noise.
What to do if you notice signs of hearing loss:
When recognizing these symptoms of hearing loss – confusion in conversation, a withdrawal from socializing – it is important to act quickly. The first step is to schedule a consultation and hearing test with an audiologist. Results from the hearing test appear on an audiogram, which records hearing ability by ear.
If a hearing loss is confirmed, you may be referred to a physician depending on the type and degree of loss. If indicated, your audiologist will recommend and fit you with hearing instruments while taking into consideration your lifestyle and budget. Our goal is to provide you with better hearing that will result in better living.