Acknowledging the Reality of Hearing Loss

Acknowledging the Reality of Hearing Loss

Today in America, some 48 million people are dealing with hearing loss ranging from mild to profound. While some mild hearing loss might not even be noticed, profound hearing loss can be debilitating, and has wide-ranging effects on lifestyle and health that can set off a cascade of negative outcomes.

Hearing loss sets in slowly over time, so exactly where we draw the line between insignificant hearing loss and hearing loss that requires assistive technology like hearing aids can be difficult. While most of us want to put off wearing hearing aids until they’re unavoidably necessary, the problem is that we can adjust to our hearing loss as it progresses, so we are prone to feel that we’re “getting along just fine” even when our friends and loved ones can see how much we’re struggling.

Everyone Needs Regular Hearing Tests

The Better Hearing Institute, a non-profit organization, recommends that a person have their hearing tested once a decade until age 50 and once every three years after that. Getting regular hearing tests is an important part of maintaining our overall health and well-being, but it also gives us an outside perspective on how much hearing loss we have, and whether it’s time to start using hearing aids.

Hearing Loss is Different from Vision Distortion

We may tend to think of hearing as analogous to eyesight, but it is really quite different. Part of the reason we are inclined to make this analogy is that hearing is so difficult to think about on its own terms. When we need eyeglasses, it’s relatively easy for us to notice how blurry things have become. We see road signs that we can’t read, we hold books and smartphones closer to our faces, we squint and get headaches. If we’re not having a similar experience with our ears, we think everything is okay.

On the contrary, when our hearing ability is compromised, we simply don’t hear as many things in our environment. We don’t hear them as “blurry,” they’re just not there. This phenomenon, combined with the fact that hearing loss develops so slowly, means that, without having it measured in a hearing test, we don’t usually realize we have hearing loss until it is fairly advanced.

Signs that We Have Hearing Loss

The first sign that we have hearing loss is usually that someone else tells us we might have it. Other people hear things in the environment and they’re surprised when we don’t hear the same things they do. Unfortunately, someone else’s opinion of our hearing is usually psychologically easier to discount than to accept. It’s never a good feeling to hear that our bodies are failing us in some way, and denial is a very common stage of hearing loss.

The most common way for us to realize through our own experience that we have hearing loss is in conversation. When our hearing loss gets to a point where we have trouble carrying on a conversation, we find ourselves unable to make heads or tails of what the other person is saying, and we become fatigued from conversation much easier. We will notice this first in more crowded, noisier places with lots of background sound.

Hearing Loss Changes

Hearing loss, not a static malady, usually progresses to a certain degree of severity, specific to each individual who has it. The good news is, it usually plateaus at a certain point, though it’s impossible to know where that point will be for any person until their hearing loss seems to have stopped getting worse for a while.

Most importantly, if a hearing healthcare professional recommends hearing aids or cochlear implants, you should use them. Untreated hearing loss, on top of the problems it causes in our daily lives, promotes the atrophy of the auditory cortex in the brain. This leads to problems not only in conversation with others, but also seems to cause short-term memory loss. If left untreated for long enough, hearing loss significantly increases the risk for social isolation and depression, as well as earlier onset of cognitive decline and dementia.

If you have hearing loss and you’re not currently treating it, or if you’re due for a hearing test, make an appointment today and start taking care of your hearing health. Your ears, brain, body, and your loved ones will thank you.