Hard to Hear?

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Repeat what you just said, please. I had trouble hearing you.  Sound familiar?

In a very noisy world and with an aging population, hearing loss is an increasing concern…as it is with the younger generation, too.   The key is an early intervention.

hearing loss5Almost half of American adults 75 or older have impaired hearing, according to the National Institutes of Health. But hearing loss isn’t just a concern for geriatric patients.  15% of Americans aged 20 to 69 also suffer high frequency hearing loss due to noise exposure at work or play. Yet the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders estimates that only 1 in 5 people who could be helped by a hearing aid actually wears one.

The earlier you can get a diagnosis and therefore manage the hearing loss, the better the outcome and the easier the transition to using amplification (hearing aids). Some key points to consider:

hearing loss6Symptoms you need to be aware of — If you complain that people are mumbling or if you frequently ask speakers to repeat themselves. If you report the roaring, buzzing or ringing sensations of tinnitus, which can accompany hearing loss.  If you avoid noisy rooms or social situations where many people talk at once.

Family members may notice TV or radio volumes set unusually high, or may feel the person is withdrawing from activities they used to enjoy. If any of these things manifest in your hearing, you absolutely need to have your hearing checked.

 

hearing loss2Other risk factors — Certain chemotherapeutic agents and some drug classes, such as aminoglycosides and aspirin in high doses, can cause hearing loss. Baseline hearing evaluations, as well as monitoring after treatment begins, are important. Loud concerts, loud church services, and extended use of headphones and ear-buds at high volume can degrade hearing at an early age.

I personally won’t attend any church service where I know there will be loud music played unless I wear my earplugs.  Younger people and their parents should be aware of the risks of amplified audio at volume settings greater than 50% of maximum, or for long duration, and of post-exposure warning signs such as tinnitus or muffled hearing. Headphones with volume limits and parental controls are available. Hunters, musicians and people with occupational noise exposure are all at risk for noise-induced hearing loss. An audiologist can assist with customized earplugs.

The specialists — Audiologists are master’s or doctoral-level professionals trained in the assessment and management of hearing loss. They administer comprehensive evaluations, make recommendations for appropriate intervention such as hearing aids, and will make recommendations for further medical or surgical evaluation if needed.

hearing loss1What you should expect — Initial evaluation involves listening to tones through headphones at various intensities and frequencies to determine hearing thresholds, as well as tests to assess your ability to understand speech.  More comprehensive evaluation, if needed, employs specialized tests to assess middle ear function, such as tympanometry or acoustic reflex testing.  Behavioral evaluation can be tailored for children as young as 7 to 8 months; for babies younger than 6 months, electrophysiologic testing can indicate hearing sensitivity. If a hearing loss is identified, a hearing needs assessment will be scheduled.  I highly recommend you and your loved ones have an Audiologist’s examination if their hearing is even the slightest bit of concern for you.

Addressing concerns — people may resist scheduling an evaluation or follow-up care because of the social stigma of hearing loss. They also may have outdated perceptions about assistive devices (hearing aids).  Folks think they’re going to have big, clunky hearing aids like their grandfather wore, but in fact, hearing aids have shrunk drastically while improving technologically. They’re now more sophisticated while also simpler to use. They can selectively amplify missing sounds, detect and adjust to different acoustic environments, and wirelessly connect with cellphones, iPads and other devices for listening. They are very small and extremely comfortable earpieces that are critically tuned to reduce volume yet maintain sound quality across the sound frequency spectrum.

hearing loss3The biggest obstacle to obtaining appropriate hearing care is often the person’s hesitation to admit they have difficulty hearing. In fact, people typically wait seven years on average before seeking management for their hearing loss. Primary care physicians and chiropractors are in a perfect position to advocate making hearing health and associated quality of life a priority for their patients.  By the way, you don’t need a doctor’s prescription to have an Audiologist perform the examination.  Simply call to schedule an appointment. Most insurances cover the examination to some degree. Medicare requires a referral for all hearing evaluations and only covers hearing examination that are a medical necessity.

hearing loss4Bottom Line: It’s so very, very important for you to see a hearing professional (Audiologist) for a complete test and thorough exam – and to have them look into your ears to check for wax blockage, or other more serious issues such a as infections or tumors.  If there’s any abnormality, you‘ll be referred to a doctor for proper treatment before the Audiologist completes the hearing test.  I’ve had an Audiologist do their comprehensive examination on me two years ago and I’m fortunate that I did.  I intend to have another one done in about two years or sooner to see how my hearings been doing or if I need some intervention.

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