Contributed by Debbie Clason, staff writer, Healthy Hearing
There’s a wealth of information at your fingertips today. With just a few strokes on the keyboard, you can learn how to fix a stubborn sliding screen door, organize a flash mob dance or make effective organic weed killer. The key to Internet surfing success however, is to make sure you’re reading information from a reliable source. And, if you happen to be searching for health-related information, don’t make the mistake of trying to self-diagnose a condition for which you should be seeing a medical professional — such as hearing loss.
If you’re not hearing well or friends and family are urging you to get your hearing checked, it’s time to see a hearing healthcare professional. Here’s why.
If you have hearing loss, you’re often the last person to know it
Hearing loss can be sneaky. For example, if you have presbycusis, a type of sensorineural hearing loss, it’s because you’ve lived long enough to acquire it. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), approximately 30 to 35 percent of adults between the ages of 65 and 70 have some degree of hearing loss. The percentage rises to 40 to 50 percent of individuals over the age of 75.
While age is the major contributor to the development of presbycusis, hereditary factors, certain medical conditions, ototoxic medication and excessive noise may also be the culprit. If you have this type of hearing loss, you may have difficulty hearing higher pitched sounds, such as the telephone ring, chirping birds or women’s voices, because the hair cells of the inner ear which are accountable for translating those particular pitches into recognizable sound are often the first to die or be damaged. The big take away here is that presbycusis occurs gradually. Many individuals don’t realize they’re having difficulty hearing until friends and family say something about it.
Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), on the other hand, affects people of all ages. Constant exposure to excessive noise causes permanent hearing loss and may be the number one reason so many individuals over the age of 65 have trouble hearing. According to the NIDCD, 15 percent of Americans between the ages of 20 to 69 have high frequency hearing loss most likely caused by NIHL. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates 5.2 million of our children between the ages of 6 to 19 have suffered permanent damage to their hearing as a result of NIHL. Symptoms range from temporary loss of hearing to tinnitus to various degrees of permanent hearing loss.
Hearing loss can be a symptom of some other medical condition
Even if you haven’t developed presbycusis or NIHL, any change in your hearing is a good reason to see a medical professional. Researchers know that hearing loss can be an indication of other medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and dementia.
- Cardiovascular disease: Most of the relationship between hearing health and cardiovascular disease is related to circulation. If your heart isn’t healthy enough to keep blood flowing to the arteries and small blood vessels in your inner ear, it may not be able to supply it to the other organs in your body, either.
- Diabetes: In July 2008, the National Institute of Health (NIH) discovered that individuals with diabetes, especially women, are twice as likely to have hearing loss as those who do not have the disease. Even those who have elevated blood glucose levels but haven’t yet developed diabetes are 30 percent more likely to have hearing loss than those with normal blood glucose levels.
- Dementia: Results of a study by Johns Hopkins and the National Institute on Aging found that individuals with hearing loss were more likely to develop dementia. Researchers believe this is due to the loss of auditory function in the brain as well as the social isolation that occurs in those with untreated hearing loss. While no studies exist to verify whether or not hearing aids reduce risks of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, wearing them has proven effective in helping regain speech understanding, delaying further hearing loss and reducing feelings of anxiety, depression and isolation.
Schedule your hearing evaluation today
No matter your age, you may have hearing loss if it’s difficult to hear someone three feet from you speaking in a normal voice, if you have trouble understanding conversation in a restaurant or other noisy environment, or if you find yourself asking people to repeat themselves. If you notice you’re having problems hearing — or someone close to you notices you’re having trouble hearing — have your hearing tested by an audiologist. They can determine the cause of your hearing loss and recommend an appropriate treatment plan.