Though hearing loss is one of the most common medical conditions older adults experience, it is often underdiagnosed. An invisible condition, hearing loss typically happens gradually so it can go unnoticed for quite some time. Additionally, there are numerous misconceptions about hearing loss that contribute to the delay in addressing it. Untreated hearing loss can significantly impact overall health and daily life. It is critical to be able to identify the signs and seek treatment; early intervention can drastically improve hearing and health!
Common Causes of Hearing Loss
Hearing loss is a public health epidemic that impacts over 48 million people in the U.S. (20% of the population). According to the Hearing Health Foundation (HHF):
- 1 in 5 people (ages 12 and over) has some degree of hearing loss in one or both ears
- 50% of adults 75 and older have hearing loss
- 25% of adults 65 to 74
- It is the third most common condition, after heart disease and arthritis, that older adults navigate
Hearing loss can be caused by a variety of factors. A few common causes include:
- Existing Medical Conditions: such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, stroke(s) etc. increase the risk of developing hearing loss.
- Environmental Exposure to Loud Noise: one time or consistent exposure to loud noise can damage hair cells in the inner ear, causing hearing loss. According to the HHF:
- 30 million U.S. workers are exposed to hazardous noise levels.
- 50% of people ages 12-35 years could be exposed to unsafe noise from personal listening devices
- Aging: age related hearing loss (also referred to as presbycusis) results from the natural aging process and/or medical conditions that older adults are at higher risk of developing.
Other causes of hearing loss are head injuries (resulting from falls, car/bike accidents, sports etc.) and genetic history. These factors reduce one’s ability to hear and process sound which produces numerous symptoms.
Identifying the Signs
There are several signs that indicate hearing loss. People with impaired hearing can have difficulty locating sound, distinguishing words, and hearing speech clearly. This can cause the following symptoms:
- Tinnitus: a ringing or buzzing like noise in one or both ears
- Increasing the volume on electronic devices (TV, phone, speaker)
- Sound is muffled or slurred making it difficult to identify words
- Difficulty hearing in environments with background noise and/or in conversations with multiple people
- Frequently asking others to speak loudly, slowly, and/or repeat themselves
- Needing to move to a quieter area to have a conversation
- Reading mouths to help identify words
In addition to these symptoms, other signals can look like:
- Having trouble hearing on the phone
- Not hearing your alarm clock
- Pretending to hear and follow a conversation
- Stress and anxiety about social gatherings
- Avoiding conversations altogether
These symptoms can be mild to severe, impacting your ability to manage personal and professional responsibilities. Strained communication can lead to social withdrawal, deteriorating mental health, and distant relationships. If any of these signs seem familiar to you, it is incredibly important to address your hearing health.
Fortunately, seeking treatment for hearing loss is relatively simple. The first step is to schedule an appointment for a hearing test. Conducted by an audiologist, hearing tests involve a noninvasive and painless process that measures hearing ability in each ear. This identifies any impairment, the degree, and specific type of hearing loss you are experiencing.
There are effective ways to treat hearing loss. The most common treatment is the prescription of hearing aids, small electronic devices that are designed to absorb, amplify, and process sound. Significantly increasing hearing ability, hearing aids also improve overall health. They contribute to enhanced cognitive function, decreasing the risk of conditions like dementia.
Additionally, treating hearing loss reduces the risk of accidental injuries and unemployment. Similar to most electronics today, hearing aids have experienced exciting innovations. There are a variety of features and technologies that allow them to be easily integrated in daily life while maximizing hearing in different environments. Prioritizing your hearing health supports you fully participating in all aspects of your life! Contact us today to schedule an appointment.