Have you ever gone to a restaurant or a bar and found it difficult to hear the conversation around you? Do you ever find that you have to raise your voice just to chat with the person next to you because the music is so loud? Did you know that 40% of adults between the age of 20-79 have at least a slight hearing loss? Did you know that noise related hearing loss is PREVENTABLE, but is also IRREVERSIBLE to help hearing health?
It is my opinion that we should have our first audiological evaluation by the time we are 25. It serves as a great baseline for you and gives you the ability to monitor any changes in your hearing.
The question I am often asked as an audiologist is, how long have I had my hearing loss for? My question back to the client is always, when was your last audiometric evaluation? More often than not, the client will come for an assessment once they have come to terms with the idea that they have hearing loss. This can take anywhere between 7 to 10 years, and then another 7 to 10 years before something is usually done about it. That is a lot of sound to be missing over a long period of time.
I wish we would value the idea of early intervention and prevention.
Noise Induced Hearing Loss
Noise induced hearing loss, is the most common hearing loss after presbycusis (age-related) hearing loss. We live in a society where we are exposed to loud noises all the time, whether it be from our headphones, to the vehicle, restaurants, lounges, pubs, bars, or that dope spin class! Not to mention the noises some of us are exposed to at work or at home, such as the snow or leaf blower, the lawn mower, hand held saws and other tools, as well as heavy equipment, and guns.
Going back to high school biology, you might recall that in the inner ear we have a structure called the cochlea. It’s a tiny little snail like shaped organ that houses thousands and thousands of hair cells. Through age, medication, noise and head injury, these hair cells can damage over time leading to permanent hearing loss. If we are talking specifically about noise, this is something that can happen in an instant; for example, if a speaker goes off next to your ear, or a gun shot, OR it is something that can happen over time. I like to think of those hair cells like grass. You can only step on grass so many times before it doesn’t pop right back up! It’s the same idea with those hair cells, they can only withstand so much noise before they stop to come back up, getting weaker and weaker each time.
So, what can you do to try and lower your risk of noise related hearing loss? I would strongly suggest using hearing protection. While foam ear plugs can be really effective, they need to be used and inserted correctly. Alternatively, the use of custom noise defenders are available too. These are really great, especially if you are working in a noisy environment, and there really is only one way to insert it, therefore way less chance of a mistake being made.
There are other types of hearing protection as well, and they are by far my favorite. Musician ear plugs. These are custom made ear plugs which have a filter. This filter allows some sounds to come in, while keeping other, more harmful sounds out. I find these to be most effective when you want to drown out some sounds, but still want the ability to be social. For example, they are a great option for sporting events, concerts, bar/club/lounge, noise restaurants or that loud group fitness class. It will give you the opportunity to hear the music, but also to enjoy the conversation or instruction around you without your ears hurting.
Some signs that you may have hearing loss and should have your hearing tested
If you notice that you miss some speech, or ask people to repeat themselves. If you notice when there is background noise, it is harder to hear. If you notice that the telephone, television and/or radio is louder than your family would like it, I would encourage you to have your hearing assessed by an audiologist.
Did you know that there is a direct correlation between hearing loss and tinnitus? Tinnitus can be defined as a noise that is only audible to you, and no one else. For example, tinnitus is commonly referred to as ringing or buzzing sounds, however it can take form in a variety of different ways, such as sounding like birds chirping, music, or people chattering.
Hearing loss can manifest gradually, and it’s important to be aware of signs that may indicate a decline in your hearing abilities. Here are some common signs of hearing loss:
- Difficulty Understanding Spoken Words:
- If you find it challenging to follow conversations, especially in noisy environments, it could be a sign of hearing loss.
- Frequently Asking for Repetition:
- Constantly asking people to repeat themselves or saying “What?” and “Huh?” may indicate difficulty hearing and understanding speech.
- Turning Up the Volume:
- If you frequently increase the volume on your electronic devices (TV, radio, phone) to a level that others find too loud, it could be a sign of hearing loss.
- Muffled or Distorted Sounds:
- Hearing sounds as muffled or unclear may suggest issues with your hearing, as well as the inability to discern certain consonants.
- Avoidance of Social Situations:
- Individuals with hearing loss may start avoiding social situations and gatherings because they find it challenging to engage in conversations.
- Difficulty Hearing Higher-Pitched Sounds:
- High-frequency sounds, such as birdsong or the ring of a phone, may become harder to hear for those experiencing high-frequency hearing loss.
- Ringing in the Ears (Tinnitus):
- Constant or intermittent ringing, buzzing, or hissing sounds in the ears, known as tinnitus, can be associated with hearing loss.
- Feeling Fatigued or Stressed After Conversations:
- Struggling to hear and comprehend speech can be mentally exhausting. If you feel fatigued or stressed after social interactions, it may be related to hearing difficulties.
- Misinterpreting Spoken Words:
- Misunderstanding or misinterpreting what others are saying can be a sign of hearing loss, especially if it happens frequently.
- Family or Friends Express Concern:
- Loved ones may notice your difficulty hearing before you do. If family or friends express concern about your hearing, it’s worth considering a hearing evaluation.
If you experience one or more of these signs, it’s advisable to consult with a healthcare professional, such as an audiologist or an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist, for a comprehensive hearing assessment. Early detection and intervention can significantly improve outcomes for individuals with hearing loss.
To sum up, two of the most important things to keep in mind when it comes to hearing health is:
2. Early intervention.
We can be preventative by using things like hearing protection. We can consider early intervention by having our hearing assessed regularly just like we do our eyes. Having your hearing tested every 2 to 3 years by an audiologist is a great idea to keep on top of your hearing health!
Ruhee Kassam, M.Aud., R.Aud