Does it seem like people around you are mumbling more than usual? When you are in a loud, busy restaurant, do you find it hard to understand what people are saying? Are you noticing that friends and family are hearing little noises, like an alarm going off in the other room that you don’t hear? Do others complain that you have the volume too high on your television, stereo or ear buds?
If so, you might be one of the 20 percent of adults in the United States with hearing loss. If you are 65 or older, your risk for hearing loss is higher, as one in three people have some hearing loss in their later years.
Causes of hearing loss
The most common causes of hearing loss are overexposure to loud noises and aging. As we age, changes can occur in our inner ear that cause slow but steady hearing loss. Age-related hearing loss, presbycusis, always is permanent.
Hearing loss caused by noise happens either slowly throughout time or suddenly. Someone who is exposed to loud noises frequently may not notice hearing loss for many years, but the damage is silently adding up.
“People damage their ears without knowing it by doing everyday tasks like running the lawnmower, using a weed eater and working with a table saw,” said Neilene Folks, PA-C, TMH Medical Clinic.
Have you ever attended a loud concert and left with a buzzing or ringing in your ears? This sensation indicates that some hair cells have died in your cochlea, or inner ear, and consequently damage has occurred.
“Men in our community trap shoot or work in places that expose them to loud noises, like driving trucks or working in the coal mines. It’s important they limit their exposure to loud noises and wear ear protection,” TMH Medical Clinic Director Terri Jourgensen, RN, said.
Treating hearing loss in adults
If you answered yes to some of the questions above, it’s time to get your hearing checked. Start with your family physician to rule out temporary causes of hearing loss, including excessive wax build up or infection. If your doctor suspects age or noise-related hearing loss, he or she will likely send you to an audiologist for a hearing test.
Hearing loss is diagnosed as mild, moderate or severe. If you have mild hearing loss, you may choose to wait on treatment. For more moderate to severe cases, hearing aids are the solution. Cochlear implant surgery is reserved for serious cases.
According to the Mayo Clinic, hearing aid manufacturers have made great strides in recent years, especially in addressing high-frequency hearing loss and in customizing hearing aids. Hearing aids have been greatly improved by applying digital technology — where a computer chip converts incoming sounds and then adjusts the signal to meet your specific needs. Finding just the right hearing aid can be tricky, so manufacturers often let you try one for 30 days first.
Kids and hearing loss
Hearing loss in children is less common than in adults. Occasionally, children are born with congenital hearing loss, and chronic ear infections can lead to temporary or permanent hearing loss. If your child has frequent ear infections, you may want to request a hearing test.
According to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, one in five teens has some level of hearing loss from listening to loud music through their ear buds.
“Loud music can cause sudden hearing loss and damage to the ears. Some of that doesn’t come back,” Folks said.
As a parent, monitor your child’s use of earphones. Limit the amount of time they listen each day (no more than 2 to 4 hours) and limit the volume level. The louder the sound, the less time teens should listen. Helping determine a safe volume level on their player, and not letting them go above that level (e.g. if you can hear the music, it’s too loud) is important. Also, spend the extra money on earphones that have scientifically proven hearing protection — look for noise-isolating earphones with safe sound output and smooth frequency.
This weekly article with tips on living well is sponsored by The Memorial Hospital at Craig — improving the quality of life for the communities we serve through patient-centered healthcare and service excellence.