Hearing health has come a long way in the last 10 years, yet there are still a lot of misconceptions about hearing loss. Do you think hearing loss only affects the elderly? Or maybe you believe your primary care physician can tell you if you have hearing loss during a routine physical. Do you believe hearing aids will give you back normal hearing or that your health won’t be affected if you have hearing loss in just one ear? How about this myth: hearing loss is a consequence of aging — and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.
If you recognize your school of thought when you read any of these five myths, it’s time to change your perspective. There’s no reason misconceptions should stand in the way of hearing your best.
1) Hearing loss only affects the elderly.
Approximately 20 percent of Americans — around 48 million Americans — report some degree of hearing loss. Additionally, hearing loss occurs in five out of every 1,000 newborns each year in the United States. Hearing loss can be caused by any number of factors: ototoxic medication, environmental factors, disease or genetics. In some cases, the cause of hearing loss is simply unknown.
In fact, teens and young adults are at risk for developing a very preventable type of hearing loss. Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is one of the most common causes of hearing loss, affecting approximately 26 million Americans between the ages of 20 and 69. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as many as 16 percent of teens age 12 to 19 have reported some hearing loss which may be caused by loud noise.
2) My primary physician will tell me if my hearing is failing.
The last time you went for a physical, did your doctor perform a hearing test on you? Chances are he or she didn’t, because very few doctors do. Your doctor relies on you to bring any health problems to light just as much as you rely on your doctor to do the same. Since your general practitioner is only so well-versed in specific areas of the body, you should have your hearing checked routinely by a hearing health practitioner, just as you have your vision checked or your teeth cleaned.
Hearing health professionals are specifically educated and trained to administer hearing tests, diagnose hearing loss and prescribe treatment. If you notice your hearing has diminished, find a hearing healthcare professional in your area and make an appointment. At the very least, you will have established a relationship with someone you trust who now has a baseline of how well you hear. If you visit them annually, just like you do your primary care physician, they’ll be able to detect any hearing loss as it occurs.
3) I notice a difference in one ear, but the other is fine so I’m ok.
Your brain is a thing of wonder. If the hearing in one ear starts to fade, your brain will adapt to the changes, at least up to a certain point. Your hearing loss could be well-advanced before you even notice a difference. There are countless stories of people who were oblivious to the extent of their hearing loss before they finally admitted they needed hearing aids. A regular hearing test can help track your hearing capability.
Here’s another brain fact. Your brain is so involved with your sense of hearing, it can “forget” how to hear certain sounds if the auditory pathways become damaged and hearing loss is untreated. That’s one of the reasons why it’s important not only to have your hearing checked regularly, but to seek treatment once hearing loss has been diagnosed.
Untreated hearing loss has also been associated with dementia, social isolation, depression and anxiety — other good reasons to see your hearing healthcare professional as soon as you notice you are not hearing well.
4) Hearing aids will restore my hearing to normal levels.
Today’s hearing aids are technological marvels. Their sensitive microphones can focus on speech while tuning out background noise, they can be programmed with the touch of a smart phone, and they work in tandem with many other personal electronic devices in our lives. The one thing hearing aids CAN’T do; however, is restore your hearing to “normal.” As much as we’ve learned about how our sense of hearing works, there is no man-made device that can completely replicate human hearing.
The good news? Hearing aids can significantly improve your ability to hear well, which leads to enhanced communication with family, friends and co-workers. The key is to work closely with your hearing healthcare professional to make sure your hearing aids help you hear your best in each of your personal listening environments.
5) My hearing loss cannot be helped.
Have you asked a hearing health practitioner about your hearing loss? Many forms of hearing loss can indeed be improved, whether it be by hearing aids, surgery, medication or a simple ear wax removal procedure. You’ll never know if you never ask. And, if it’s been a few years since you’ve seen a hearing healthcare professional, consider making another appointment. The field of hearing health is rapidly changing. Hearing loss that was difficult to address even a few years ago may be treatable now.
The first step is to find a hearing healthcare professional you can trust. Ask your family physician for a referral or use Healthy Hearing’s Find a Professional section to find a hearing clinic in your community.