Contributed by Debbie Clason, staff writer, Healthy Hearing
With more than 48 million Americans reporting some type of hearing loss, chances are good you’ll eventually join the group. And while you may be reluctant to get your hearing tested, untreated hearing loss may be affecting more than your ability to hear – it may also be affecting your pocketbook.
Symptoms of hearing loss
Unless you’ve recently been exposed to loud noise, hearing loss is probably one of those physical problems that will sneak up on you gradually. Hearing loss ranks as the third most common physical condition, right behind heart disease and arthritis, and is closely related to age. While 18 percent of adults between the ages of 45-64 years of age have hearing loss, the percentage increases to 30 percent in adults between the ages of 65-74 and 47 percent for those over the age of 75.
According to the Hearing Health Foundation, you should schedule a hearing test with a hearing healthcare professional if you can answer “yes” to three or more of the following questions:
- Do you have a problem hearing over the telephone?
- Do you have a problem following the conversation when two or more people are talking at the same time?
- Do people complain that you turn the TV volume up too high?
- Do you have to strain to understand conversation?
- Do you have trouble hearing in a noisy environment?
- Do you find yourself asking people to repeat themselves?
- Do many people you speak to seem to mumble or not speak clearly?
- Do you misunderstand what people are saying and respond inappropriately?
- Do you have trouble understanding the speech of women and children?
- Do people get annoyed because you misunderstand what they say?
Hearing loss that occurs as the result of the aging process is called presbycusis. If you’ve been exposed to excessive loud noise – from working in construction, the music industry or as a soldier in our armed forces – you may experience noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). Both presbycusis and NIHL are types of sensorineural hearing loss, meaning the sensitive hair cells in the inner ear are permanently damaged. These hair cells translate the sound our ears collect into electrical impulses for our brain to interpret. While they cannot be regenerated, sensorineural hearing can be improved with amplification provided by hearing aids.
Hearing loss affects more than your ears
Interestingly, most people wait an average of eight years from the time they have a hearing test to the time they decide to treat their hearing loss. That’s unfortunate, because besides the diminished ability to hear family, friends and co-workers, untreated hearing loss has also been linked to a variety of other health problems. Studies have shown a direct relationship between a healthy cardiovascular system and hearing health. In fact, ear health is so sensitive to blood flow, some researchers call the ear a “window to the heart” in predicting cardiovascular disease.
Scientists are also studying the relationship between hearing loss and diabetes. Studies indicate diabetics are twice as likely to develop hearing loss than those without the disease.
Untreated hearing loss can also lead to dementia, depression, anxiety and paranoia as well as social isolation. In 2011, John Hopkins researchers discovered seniors with untreated hearing loss were “significantly more likely to develop dementia than those who retain their hearing.” A major study by the National Council on the Aging (NCOA) in 1999 found that adults over the age of 50 with untreated hearing loss were more likely to experience depression, anxiety and paranoia than those who wore hearing aids.
How hearing loss impacts job performance
Believe it or not, 60 percent of Americans who say they have some degree of hearing loss are in the workforce or educational setting. If their hearing loss interferes with communication, it most likely affects job performance, too.
Struggling to hear well can lead to fatigue and frustration. Hearing loss can also impact your safety, especially if you’re unable to hear warning signals or sirens. Can you hear the telephone ring? Do you have trouble following the conversation during employee meetings? If so, you may miss important information that can lead to poor performance reviews and, ultimately, fewer raises.
How hearing loss impacts income
So what does that mean to your pocketbook? A study Better Hearing Institute found people with untreated hearing loss may lose as much as $30,000 annually, depending on their degree of hearing loss. (The study is no longer online.) The study also determined that the combined loss in annual income due to underemployment of hearing-impaired employees is estimated at $176 billion – and that translates to $26 billion in unrealized federal tax dollars.
When should you get a hearing test
Ok – so ask yourself. When is the last time you can remember having a hearing test? If you’re like most folks, it was back in elementary school. The medical professionals at John Hopkins recommend having your hearing tested at least once before the age of 60. This will give your hearing healthcare professional a baseline by which to compare future tests and monitor your hearing health.
Fortunately, if your hearing loss is sensorineural in nature, chances are good it can be enhanced with hearing aids. Today’s hearing aids aren’t anything like those your grandparents wore. Digital hearing technology has significantly improved their ability to process speech and control background noise. Connectivity has improved in the last three years. Depending on the nature of your hearing loss, you may be able to wear a virtually invisible hearing aid that can connect wirelessly to all of your personal electronic devices.
If the cost of purchasing hearing aids is holding you back, check with your employer. You may qualify for help from your state vocational rehabilitation office or be able to use your flexible spending account and be reimbursed. If you’re a veteran, check with your local VA. Otherwise, many local nonprofits, such as Seratoma, provide refurbished hearing aids to those who qualify. Some local hearing centers offer similar services.
Today, there really isn’t any reason not to hear well. Considering the impact untreated hearing loss has on your overall health and potential earning income, it’s in your best interest to schedule an appointment with a hearing health professional at your next possible convenience.