May is designated Better Hearing & Speech Month, raising public awareness and increase understanding about hearing loss issues. According to the National Institutes of Health, an estimated one-third of Americans between the ages of 65 and 75, and close to half of those older than 75, have some degree of hearing loss. At age 65, one out of every three people in this country has some form of hearing loss. Mayo Clinic Health System audiologist Jenne Tunnell, Au.D., says, “Although hearing loss is common in older adults, the problem affects people of all ages. Some are born with hearing loss, and others can lose hearing at a young age.”
Doctors believe that heredity and chronic loud noise exposure are the two main factors that contribute to hearing loss over time. Other factors, such as an ear infection, can prevent your ears from conducting sounds as well as they should. Unfortunately, you can’t reverse most forms of hearing loss.
To help avoid the negative side effects associated with untreated hearing loss, look for early signs. Start by giving yourself the following quiz from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.
Keep in mind that this quiz is for general information. Only your audiologist should diagnose a hearing loss. If you answered yes to three or more of the questions, call your doctor and ask about getting a hearing test.
Hearing loss results in a loss of intelligibility. Words are often missing or distorted – leading those with a hearing issue to believe that “everyone is mumbling.” However, you don’t have to live in a world of quieter or less distinct sounds. You and your audiologist can take steps to improve what you can hear. People with hearing loss may deal with issues such as grief over the hearing loss, low self-esteem, stress and the resulting fatigue, depression, loss of intimacy, withdrawal, social isolation and possible chemical dependency.
Many conditions can cause hearing loss. Some of the more common causes include:
Hearing aids are devices that amplify sound for people with hearing loss. They come in many makes, models, shapes and sizes. The main types of hearing aids are:
When hearing loss is too severe to benefit from traditional hearing aids, another option may be cochlear implant surgery. A cochlear implant is a small device that bypasses parts of the inner ear that don’t work and converts sounds into electrical impulses that send sound information to the brain. Your health care provider can advise whether you may be a candidate for cochlear implantation and discuss the benefits and risks of this procedure.