Most young people take hearing for granted. They yell and laugh, play their music too loud (and hear about that, too) and think it will go on forever. But as people get older, they realize the truth – nothing lasts forever. Not even hearing.
Hearing loss can be, as mentioned above, caused by loud noises. Construction workers, members of the military, musicians, airport workers and others whose jobs or lifestyles require them to be around loud noises for extended periods of time are at risk. Loud noise can also cause tinnitus, a constant, irritating ringing in the ears. Other causes for hearing loss may be viral or bacterial, caused by a stroke or heart condition, head injury or tumor. Other conditions can, on occasion, cause hearing loss or deafness.
Hearing loss can happen to anyone, but it seems to be considered a normal part of aging. Presbycusis (prez-buh-KYOO-sis) seems to run in families. If your grandparents all lost their hearing early, you are likely to have the same problem. While that is not good news for some, it can act as an early warning system. Looking for symptoms and acting early can save seniors and their families’ frustration and time, eliminating what might be remembered as Grandma’s ‘What’ Years.
The following questions, found on the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, can help you determine whether or not you may have a hearing disorder. If you answer ‘yes’ to three or more of them, it is time to seek professional help.
Do I have a problem hearing on the telephone?
Do I trouble hearing when there is noise in the background?
Is it hard for me to follow a conversation when two or more people talk at once?
Do I have to strain to understand a conversation?
Do many people I talk to seem to mumble (or not speak clearly)?
Do I misunderstand what others are saying and respond inappropriately?
Do I often ask people to repeat themselves?
Do I have trouble understanding the speech of women and children?
Do people complain that I turn the TV volume up too high?
Do I hear a ringing, roaring, or hissing sound a lot?
These questions are certainly not the definitive test for hearing loss, it is a good beginning. If, after answering these questions, you think a visit to the doctor may be in order, go armed with information. Take specific complaints and explain them to your doctor. If you’d like, take this list of questions, pointing out which ones you answered ‘yes’. The more information your doctor has, the better your doctor can assist you.
Most family doctors will refer you to an audiologist (aw-dee-ah-low-gist). Who can tell you your exact hearing range, areas of loss and fit you for hearing aids. You may also choose to go to an ‘ears, nose and throat’ doctor (ENT) to find out exactly why you’ve begun to lose hearing. It is important not just to treat the symptom, as this loss may be associated with other illnesses or conditions. In fact, if you choose to skip the ‘medical’ aspect of hearing loss, your audiologist will require you to sign a medical waiver before giving you hearing aids.
If you feel you are experiencing hearing loss, don’t feel alone. Approximately 17% of American seniors have some level of loss of hearing. That means that one out of every five people you went to school with, played cards or dominos with or raised your children with now has a problem hearing. Many of your friends will experience it. Talk to them. Find out what doctors have treated them with compassion and been successful. Support each other with the emotional aspects of the loss. Form an unofficial support group, not to cry on each other’s shoulders, but to share information and encouragement.
Whether you suffer from hearing loss or not, take some steps to save your hearing. Avoid loud noises, take steps to keep earwax buildup to a minimum, and get a flu shot to prevent upper respiratory infections which may result not only in a miserable month, but an ear infection. Ask your pharmacist if your medications are ototoxic. Ototoxic medications can damage the ear. If you do have medications that will cause hearing loss, ask if some other medication can be used instead.
Hearing is a wonderful gift. It gives us conversation, music and laughter. Protect it. If you are experiencing hearing loss, take positive steps to retain or regain it. It is too precious to let go without a fight.