Hearing loss can be debilitating.
“Oftentimes people dismiss signs of hearing loss as ‘no big deal,’” said Michele Michaels, hard of hearing specialist at the Arizona Commission for the Deaf and the Hard of Hearing. “In reality, hearing loss is a very big deal. Hearing loss can affect anyone at any time in all the areas of your life, including your relationships, your health and your safety.”
Aging and exposure to loud noises have been found to be the primary causes of hearing loss, according to the Better Hearing Institute (BHI), but other reasons include:
Infections (otitis media)
Injury to the head or ear
Birth defects or genetics (e.g., otosclerosis)
Ototoxic reaction to drugs or cancer treatment (e.g., antibiotics, chemotherapy, radiation)
Extended exposure to seemingly harmless noises can also lead to hearing loss, said Dee Spitler, co-owner of Zounds Hearing Clinics in Prescott and Sedona.
“Hair dryers can be a risk, believe it or not, for those who work at a salon and whatnot because it’s a long duration,” Spitler said. “Or truck drivers will lose hearing in just their left ear because they open the window often while they’re driving.”
Those who experience some degree of hearing loss usually have the most trouble picking up the words of those who have a higher, windier voice, said Spitler.
“That’s caused by damage to the hairs that pick up the high frequency tones, which are the most vulnerable because they are on the outer part of the ear canal,” Spitler said.
Hearing loss can also lead to mental fatigue, Spitler said.
As it becomes more difficult to distinguish certain pitches and words, someone’s brain ends up having to work overtime to translate the noises being thrown at them.
“The analogy I always use is, if someone is reading a book and every fifth word is blanked out, it’s a lot of work to fill in the blanks,” Spitler said.
Some major indicators of hearing loss include:
Frequently ask people to repeat themselves;
Often turn your ear toward a sound to hear it better;
Understand people better when you wear your glasses or look directly at their faces;
Have trouble following group conversations;
Keep the volume on your radio or TV at a level that others say is too loud;
Have pain or ringing in your ears.
“For some, hearing loss may be inevitable,” Michaels said. “However, for most people hearing loss is completely preventable.”
Some tips provided by Michaels on how to protect one’s hearing:
Keep the volume on televisions, music, radios and cellphones turned down to a moderate level.
Smoking toxins can negatively affect a person’s hearing ability. Don’t smoke.
Wear ear plugs and other protective gear when operating noisy equipment.
Take regular breaks from loud noise – at least a 10–minute break every hour.
Avoid unhealthy eating. A poor diet increases the chances of being diagnosed with diabetes and thus puts an individual at a greater risk of developing hearing loss.
As for when it’s time to really take a look at potentially seeking some form of hearing aid, Spitler advises simply being reasonable.
“If it’s gotten to the point where it’s affecting their relationships in their life, that’s about when they should seriously be considering some of the options known to help,” Spitler said.