Monday, November 25, 2013

What's That You Say?

Let's talk a bit about hearing loss. "What?" you say? Yeah, that's what I mean. Seriously, hearing loss is a big deal for a lot of us. 36 million of us here in America. More men than women, many due to noise exposure at work or play. A significant number of us who have hearing loss also have tinnitus (ringing in the ears). It's a noisy world out there, and our ears aren't really built for it.

It is true that most industries are screening their employees' hearing yearly, and requiring ear plugs for noisy occupations. So hopefully, fewer workers will be experiencing hearing loss in the future. Still, Americans are living longer, which is great, but also results in more hearing impaired seniors, since hearing worsens with age. In fact, about half of all seniors over age 75 are hearing impaired.

The situation is better for children of course, since only 3 out of 1,000 are born with hearing loss (90% of them are born to hearing parents). Still, 3 out of 4 children will have ear infections before age 3. Many of them will have persistent fluid which causes hearing loss, though not of a permanent kind. As I mentioned in a previous post, 7% of children will get tubes to treat infections or ear fluid.

The good news: there's help and hope for hearing loss. Hearing aid technology has reached a high point in the past decade, and even profoundly deaf people who don't benefit from hearing aids hear again with cochlear implants. The bad news: only 1 out of 5 people who would benefit from hearing aids actually use them. Yes, you heard me correctly: one in five.
How can this be, you ask? I'll give you my top 3 reasons:
1. Finances. Hearing aids don't grow on trees, and as in most things, you get what you pay for. The only hearing aids that actually block background noise are the more expensive styles. Still, most people don't need all the expensive bells and whistles; modest-priced models can improve most mild to moderate hearing loss, and even severe hearing loss can benefit from these affordable devices.
2. Prejudice. Many of my older patients tell me that "everyone I know who has gotten a hearing aid just leaves it in a drawer." There are a number of reasons why someone who is fitted with a hearing aid ends up not using it: poor choice of aid or poor fitting by an unqualified hearing aid professional; poor customer service by profit-minded hearing aid mills; even vanity on the part of the wearer. The fact is that the vast majority of well-fitted hearing aids work as advertised and benefit the wearer tremendously.
3. Ignorance. Many hearing-impaired people don't realize the extent of their loss. Noise related hearing loss often becomes noticeable long after the noise exposure, and most hearing loss of any kind progresses very slowly, sort of creeping up on people unnoticed. Family members and co-workers often perceive the loss long before the individual does.

Here is Doc's Advice: if you or your loved one seem to miss things, or check out of group conversations, or find themselves increasing the TV volume level, you probably have hearing loss. You should find a reputable hearing professional and get your hearing tested. Most Ear, Nose, and Throat physicians employ audiologists who can test and treat hearing loss. In addition, the ENT can check your ears and make sure there are no medically treatable problems causing your hearing loss.

If you have hearing loss, do yourself a favor and try one of the state-of-the-art digital hearing aids now available. Don't pretend you don't have trouble hearing, and don't let pride or vanity get in the way. Yes, hearing aids are spendy, but not necessarily out of reach for most Americans. Let's face it: most of us have at least some discretionary income (you know, that's what buys RVs, XBoxes, 4 wheelers, bass boats, iPads, AKC puppies, designer sunglasses, smartphones, cable TV). Invest in your hearing health as much as you do your toys, and join back into the conversation!

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