Are you in hearing loss denial?

If you discovered your eyesight was getting worse, would you wait seven years to get new glasses? Turns out, that’s how long the average woman waits before treating her hearing loss. Cleveland Clinic audiologist Dr. Craig Newman tells FOFs how we can buck this trend

  • How common is hearing loss?
    • Image
      FOF Bill Clinton has publicly
      announced his use of hearing aids.

      30 million Americans suffer from hearing loss…so, quite common.

  • Is it mostly a problem of aging?
    • Age is one of the top factors, but we’re seeing a rise among people in their 20s and 30 as well as among boomers.
  • Why is that?
    • Our world has become much noisier. The rise of mp3 players has had a huge effect. Back in the day, we listened to stereos, which we would turn up loud. But today, earbuds carry sound directly into the ear–much more damaging. A lot of working adults try to overcome background noise when they’re on the subway or the street by turning those headphones and phones up even louder.
  • And this is a problem for FOFs–not just teenagers?
    • Oh yes, especially for those of us who are working out at the gym or outside with iPods. And unfortunately, this type of hearing loss–which damages the delicate hairs in the ear–is permanent.
  • Why is it so hard to recognize when we are losing our hearing?
    • The experience of hearing loss is not what people expect. The sounds don’t get softer; rather they become distorted. We don’t hear the consonant sounds as easily (such as “s” or “th” or “f”) and those sounds that carry the meaning of the words. The result is lots of misunderstandings: Someone asks you if you have the time, for example, and you reach into your pocket looking for a dime.
  • So you may just think the people around you are mumbling.
    • Exactly right. It’s often a spouse, a son, a daughter or a close friend that is the first one to notice your hearing loss.
  • How can you tell if you’re losing your hearing?
    • There are four main signs:1. Difficulty listening to the tv or radio–you can’t seem to follow what’s happening.

      2. You often think people are mumbling.

      3. When you go to restaurants or family gatherings you start to feel frustrated and irritable because you can’t follow the conversations. You might complain that the restaurant is ‘too loud!’

      4. Ringing in the ears–also called tinnitus–can be an early warning sign.

  • Why are people so reluctant to admit they’re losing their hearing?
    • I think there is a stigma attached to the treatment–hearing aids. People think, ‘if I wear hearing aids, that must mean I’m getting older.’
  • Right–that’s for “old” people.
    • The reality is that the misunderstandings and inappropriate conversations that happen without hearings aids make a person look older. People think, ‘this woman isn’t even answering my questions right, is something wrong with her?’ Plus, hearing aids these days are completely discreet. There are even designer hearing aids.
  • What’s the first step if you suspect that you’re losing their hearing?
    • Have a baseline hearing test or an audiogram done by an audiologist.
  • What does this hearing test entail?
    • Simple and painless. You listen to different tones and pitches and words to figure out how many you can hear and repeat back accurately.
  • Is a hearing aid always the treatment?
    • No. Before you’re fit with a hearing aid, you need to see a physician to make sure there’s no underlying medical reason for the hearing loss. The problem may be  an ear infection or a build up of ear wax. Sometimes women–especially middle aged women–have otosclerosis. That’s a problem with the middle ear bones that can be repaired with surgery.
  • Should you have your hearing checked even if you don’t suspect hearing loss?
    • Yes. It’s important to have a baseline understanding of your hearing, because then we have something to compare it to later. Some people come to us in their 60s and 70s asking, ‘How long have I had this hearing loss?,’ and we have no idea.
  • How do you start preserving your hearing right now?
    • If you are around loud situations, wear ear protection. That could be the foam ear protectors you get at the drug store. Or, if you love music and attend a lot of concerts, go to an audiologist and actually have musician’s plugs made. They won’t distort the music, so you can still enjoy it. If you are using ear buds, set your ipod for a maximum of 60% volume output.
  • What are the dangers of not treating your hearing loss?
    • There are a lot of psychological implications. I often see patients who feel depressed, isolated and withdrawn. They’ve really stopped connecting with people. On the flip side, hearing aids have been shown to improve earning power and intimacy in family relationships. They give people a sense of control over their lives.
  • What’s the most popular, sleek, understated hearing aid to get?
    • Image
      New open-style hearing aids are
      barely visible.

      The new open fit hearing aids are very popular. A small piece of wire directs sound into the inner ear so the ear remains open. Old-style hearing aids filled the ear and distorted the sound– sort of like you were hearing things in a barrel. Modern hearings aids can also be wirelessly synced with your Bluetooth phone or television.

  • Once they get the hearing aids, how do your patients typically react?
    • Most patients are very reluctant until they try them. Then their eyes light up! I see them a month later and it’s amazing how many people come back thrilled. I would say, just do it.
Author
Dr. Craig Newman
Head of Audiology at the Cleveland Clinic

Dr. Craig Newman, PhD., is a world-renowned expert in hearing issues and the Section Head of Audiology at the Cleveland Clinic. He also serves as a Professor in the Department of Surgery at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine.
Dr. Newman serves as a reviewer for a number of scholarly journals and is an associate editor for the Journal of the American Academy of Audiology. He is a Fellow of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association and was awarded the Jerger Career Award for Research in Audiology in 2004 by the American Academy of Audiology (AAA).

3 Responses to “Are you in hearing loss denial?”

  1. northernsydney says:

    If a person denies that they have hearing loss, they are only hurting themselves because of the psychological and physical effects that denial can have. Someone who denies their hearing loss may experience anger, stress, depression, failed relationships, and the loss of a social life.
    tinnitus cure

    REPLY
  2. Terry Perl says:

    I’m going to an audiologist next week. Can’t wait. I hate saying “what?” all the time.

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  3. samriggs says:

    Yes, I know I have hearing loss. Have had the audiogram and loss is most evident at upper and lower ends of the tones. I wonder about the so-called sound amplifiers that are available for much less than aids – are they worth a try? I don’t have any problem with the idea of wearing aids, just hate to spend so much if not necessary. Also, my Aunt has had so much trouble with hers, I just wonder which kind is best. Thanks for your article.

    REPLY

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