Hearing loss affects more than 36 million Americans. Although hearing problems are commonly associated with the normal aging process, more than half of all hearing-impaired persons are younger than 65, and 35 percent of those individuals do not utilize devices that can significantly improve hearing.
With a gradual hearing loss, your brain is slowly deprived of sounds and speech in your environment to the point where you may not realize what you’ve been missing. If you wait too long, the auditory areas of the brain will become deprived of stimulation and it could be too late. Once the auditory nerve has lost understanding ability, it is difficult to regain, but by keeping it stimulated with hearing aids, that ability can be regained.
It is important to be aware of any hearing loss you or a loved one may have, or that you begin to notice, for many reasons. Common symptoms of hearing loss include the following:
• Asking others to repeat what they said;
• Difficulty understanding conversation in crowded places;
• Inability to hear clearly on the phone;
• Feeling tired at the end of the day from straining to hear;
• The need to stare at people when they’re talking in order to read lips; and
• Ringing in the ears.
You should be aware of any limitations you may have in communication and seek the appropriate assistive devices that may help you or a loved one. It is also important to know if you are “on the borderline” of a significant hearing loss if considering hearing aids or other devices are in your future, so you can prepare for that step emotionally and financially.
Hearing loss can have many causes, including age-related changes, ear infections, congenital defects or trauma. Many people are not sure where they should begin to seek help for their hearing.
Reaching out to an audiologist is a great first step to take in determining if you have any significant loss. An audiologist is a highly trained physician in their field who can diagnose hearing and balance disorders. Audiologists evaluate patients of all ages. If, after evaluation, there is a medical concern, an audiologist can make the appropriate referral to a physician.
There often is a stigma with wearing hearing aids, however once a hearing-impaired individual takes that step, their relationships with family, friends and co-workers often improves. The free community education event “An In-Depth Look at Hearing Loss” on April 8 will teach attendees about the prevalence and types of hearing loss and the reasons not ignore the symptoms. The importance of amplification and a review of the latest technology options to enhance hearing also will be covered. Registration is required by calling 234-6727.
Dr. Leslie Purcell is an audiologist with Mount Nittany Physician Group.