Signs of Hearing Loss
Everyone has experienced changes in sensitivity to sound at one point or another and changes in hearing are a common part of everyday life. You may have found yourself speaking louder or even yelling unintentionally without realizing it or maybe you’ve been in a room and wondered why everyone was speaking so softly or quietly. Hearing loss is a common experience for many people and it is nothing to be ashamed of. So how do you know when changes in your hearing are a genuine medical concern?
Most likely, you are missing out. You are either not hearing something at all which is a result of loudness or intensity of sound, or you are missing certain sounds such as understanding people's voices in crowded environments which is a result of loss of hearing at different frequencies. Not being able to hear can be isolating.
How common is hearing loss?
The World Health Organization reports that hearing loss is among the most prevalent health deficits in human beings with over 450 million people afflicted across the globe. Hearing is progressively lost with aging and nearly one third of individuals above the age of 65 have a measurable degree of hearing loss. This is called presbycusis and is a natural process.
As a result, hearing loss is often underdiagnosed and undertreated. Most types of hearing loss are irreversible however consulting with a healthcare professional can help to manage your symptoms as early as possible and prevent any further hearing damage. Some types of hearing loss can be fixed with relatively simple solutions such as removal of earwax. It is best to have your health professional determine what options you may have. The use of hearing aids can also significantly improve not only your sensitivity to sound but also your overall quality of life.
General Hearing Loss Symptoms
The Mayo Clinic lists common symptoms of hearings loss such as:
- hearing muffled sounds
- difficulty understanding words in everyday conversation
- requesting others to either speak louder, slower, or more clearly
- using electronic devices (television, phone, radio, headsets) at higher volumes
- withdrawal from conversation
- avoidance of social situations due to embarrassment
High Frequency Hearing Loss Symptoms
The ability to perceive high frequency sounds generally deteriorates with age and is the most common form of hearing loss. Hearing loss in the high frequencies can be the lost due to noise exposure. It can be very hard to hear in areas with background noise with high frequency hearing loss. Many individuals with this type of hearing loss may notice themselves unable to focus or hold conversations in social environments and public places.
A distinct feature of this type of hearing loss involves consonants (such as s, h or f), as these sounds are usually made at a higher pitch. It can also be more difficult to hear women or children as their natural speech tends to have a higher inflection and pitch. You may also no longer notice the sounds of birds chirping in the morning. If you have experienced these symptoms, you may consider seeking out professional medical advice.
Lifestyle Effects of Hearing Loss
Despite being a natural process, losing your ability to hear can be an embarrassing experience. It can make social situations more difficult to navigate through and everyday life more challenging. You may not know of anyone else that has hearing problems but chances are that there are other people who may be experiencing similar symptoms as you.
Additionally, some people find it uncomfortable or ugly to wear hearing aid devices so there can be significant barriers socially and emotionally to seeking out treatment. It is best to consult a healthcare professional regarding any concerns you have about your hearing. The only way to really know if you do have significant hearing loss is to have your ears evaluated and to get your hearing checked.
Medical Conditions Comorbid with Hearing Loss
Here are some medical conditions that have been shown to be comorbid or also be present when an individual has diagnosed hearing loss. The relationship between hearing loss and the listed condition may not be clear or causative.
1) Social isolation and loneliness
Hearing loss can result in a decline of participation in social activities due to difficulty engaging and participating in conversations.
Depression is commonly associated with hearing loss due to the associated withdrawal from social activity and an increase in feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Dizziness, stumbling, vertigo, and falls are also commonly associated with hearing loss. It is important to be aware of fall risks if you or a loved one has hearing loss. Our hearing and balance are closely related both anatomically and in real-life situations.
4) Cardiovascular disease
Hearing loss and cardiovascular diseases are both considered diseases attributable to aging and age-related degeneration.
Hearing loss and diabetes are both considered diseases attributable to aging and age-related degeneration.
6) Cognitive impairment and dementia
Hearing loss, cognitive impairment, and dementia are all considered diseases attributable to aging and age-related degeneration.
As hearing loss is age-related, it is also co-morbid with death as individuals gradually lose hearing over their lifetime.
When Should I Get My Hearing Checked?
Because hearing loss is a slow and gradual process, many people do not take action between first noticing the onset of the symptoms of their hearing loss to their first audiometric examination with a healthcare professional. In fact, a recent survey showed that patients waited on average 7 years before their first diagnostic hearing exam.
This is not unusual as the initial degree of hearing loss may not significantly affect your quality of life to warrant a visit to the doctor's office. But as with any health condition, the earlier it is detected the better the outcome. With early detection, you can take the proper care to ensure you do not further damage your hearing and get the proper treatment to manage your symptoms. In some cases, hearing can be restored with surgery which may include the eardrum, the bones behind the eardrum, or by other techniques.
We recommend getting your ears evaluated and your hearing tested at the first onset of symptoms.
Where Can I Get A Hearing Test?
Getting tested for your hearing loss can be complicated but there are multiple ways for you to find the appropriate care depending on your needs. You may want to go to your primary care physician, an ENT (ears, nose, throat) specialist, an otologist, or an audiologist. Keep in mind there are various ways to test hearing. Traditionally, the most accurate hearing test remains one that is conducted without outside sound such as in a sound proof booth.
Keep in mind other factors when deciding where you go for your medical care. You should consider your past medical history, your insurance provider coverage, and your family history to determine which provider best meets your needs. Hearing loss and diseases that affect the ear, hearing or balance can run in families.
Cost is also an important consideration, but most hearing tests will be relatively inexpensive (many are free), while hearing aid costs vary much more significantly.
What Can I Do to Prevent Further Hearing Loss?
Loud noises create a large amount of stress on the mechanical parts in our ear that allow us to hear. In order to prevent further damage to your hearing, it is important to maintain healthy hearing hygiene. Limiting exposure to loud environments and noise is the number one way to maintain your hearing longevity. Consider reducing the amount of concerts, stadium sporting events, and movie theatres you attend to mitigate your risk. It is also important to be mindful of the volume settings one everyday electronics such as personal headphones/speakers, television, and radio. The amount of time spent around loud noises is just as consequently as the degree of loudness of a sound. Be mindful of how much time you spend in loud areas and remember that your ears also need to be able to rest and reset. Again, most continuous noise exposure affects our high pitches or frequencies first. High frequency hearing loss often leads to a gradual inability to discriminate sounds or understand certain voices.
Certain professions are also at higher risk for developing hearing loss due to the nature of the work environment. It is important to keep in mind what noises you expose yourself to daily and how you can best adapt your life to maintain healthy hearing. Hearing protection is a vital part of hearing preservation and protection.
What Should I Do If I Have Hearing Loss?
If you suspect you have hearing loss, we recommend getting your hearing tested. You can take a free test in several places online, or you can get tested at a hearing center by an audiologist. Keep in mind, the results may be more difficult to interpret.
If you have severe to profound hearing loss, we recommend you consult an audiologist. For your level of hearing loss, you may need a more advanced solution.
If you have mild to moderately severe hearing loss, you may see improvement from less intense treatments. Our rechargeable hearing aids are at one of the lowest prices on the market, starting at only $89/pair for our EV1 hearing aids and costing only $249/pair for our top of the line EV3 hearing aids.
Your hearing treatment depends on your level of hearing loss and your budget. Keep those two in mind, and if you don't need something crazy advanced or expensive, give us a try! With a 45 day money back guarantee, there's no reason not to.
Thanks for reading, and good luck on your journey to better hearing!
Drew Sutton M.D.
Drew Sutton, MD is a board-certified otolaryngologist. He has extensive experience and training in sinus and respiratory diseases, ear and skull base surgery, and pulmonary disorders. He has served as a Clinical Instructor at Grady Hospital Emory University for more than 12 years.