There has been a great shift in how society views hearing loss. Not long ago it was thought of as a disability or a sign of aging. Even President Reagan initially used his hearing aid only in private, over concern with appearing too old for office. Now our culture sees hearing loss more accurately: that it affects all ages and lifestyles and is in no way indicative of one’s ability.
But even with this positive attitude shift, there remains a lot of confusion over gradual hearing loss. Often a family member notices someone’s hearing loss first—why is that? If there is no longer a stigma involved, what is keeping people from advocating for their own hearing health? One reason we find is that the person with the loss is seemingly less affected by it than the person(s) living with them. Family members notice that they have to repeat themselves more or that the television volume is painfully high, while the person with hearing loss goes unaware.
While everyone should pay attention to individual changes in their body and environment, there are signs of gradual hearing loss that are more common than others.
- Difficulty understanding others. You may hear someone when they’re talking, but you can’t decipher their words, even when in relatively quiet places. Feeling like everyone is mumbling or constantly asking people to repeat themselves is the most common red flag.
- Turning up the volume full blast. This is the hearing loss sign that garners the most spousal or family complaint. To protect your hearing, you should never have the volume over 60%. If you can’t hear it at that level and your spouse feels like it’s ear-shattering, it’s probably because the damage has already been done.By remedying the situation with hearing aids and subtitles, you can spare your family’s hearing—no need to risk their ears too.
- Vertigo or tinnitus. Tinnitus is a constant ringing (or whooshing or hissing) in the ears and usually comes on after exposure to loud sounds for a lengthy period. Ever leave a concert with your ears ringing? Unfortunately that means you’ve lost some of your hearing. We recommend wearing ear plugs whenever you’re in noisy environments for a prolonged time. If you have tinnitus that doesn’t go away you should schedule an evaluation.
- Feeling tired or stressed after conversations or social interactions.When your brain has to work especially hard to decipher what people are saying, it can exhaust you. That’s partly why untreated hearing loss can lead to dementia, depression, and other serious mental health problems. Modern hearing technology is so advanced that it helps your brain and ears work together to help orient, focus, recognize, and separate sounds, all while taking into your account your personal hearing preferences.
Here is the good news: if you suspect that you or a loved one may have hearing loss, it’s easy to find out at no cost. Many hearing aid dispensers offer complimentary evaluations. This is especially great news for parents with children who have “selective hearing”. Now you can find out for sure.
Treating hearing loss isn’t just about getting proper hearing aids. Your provider can also talk to you about communication strategies for you and your family, and other technology to ease the transition, such as Bluetooth devices for your phone. The sooner you treat your hearing loss, the easier the transition will be, and the less likely that more serious problems will develop.