New option for hearing loss
How to Recognize Hearing Loss
Many people are aware that their hearing has deteriorated but are reluctant to seek help. There are many tell-tale signs of hearing loss, some more obvious than others. In all cases, though, seeking help for early symptoms can help immensely. There have been great advances in technology, like hearing aids, but even when technology isn't needed, it's important to know when it's time to seek help for suspected hearing loss.
Recognizing Signs of Hearing Loss in Yourself
Consider age-related hearing loss.Hearing loss that occurs gradually with advancing age is called presbycusis. Hearing loss associated with age is very common and affects nearly half of individuals over the age of 75. This form of hearing loss is the result of several changes to the ears that occur over a lifetime.
- Chronic health conditions such as hypertension and diabetes can kill sensory cells in the ears that do not grow back.
- Exposure to loud sounds that have resulted in the death of sensory cells adds up over time.
- Age related changes to structures to the ear, such as the eardrum and ossicles, affect the ability of the ear to function optimally.
Rule out trauma induced hearing loss.People of all ages can suffer from hearing loss due to trauma of some sort. If you have recently experienced a physical trauma that may explain your hearing loss, this may be the culprit.
- Very loud sounds can damage your eardrums, and so can prolonged exposure to noise. Sound is measured in units called decibels. Sounds under 75 decibels usually do not cause traumatic hearing loss even after prolonged exposure. Sounds measuring 85 decibels or over are associated with hearing loss after prolonged exposure. Examples of these potentially damaging sounds come from motorcycles (95dB), sirens (120dB), and firecrackers (150dB).
- To reduce your risk of trauma-induced hearing loss, limit your interactions with things that are loud enough to cause hearing damage. These can include plane engines, lawnmowers, motorcycles, chainsaws, powerboats, and MP3 players. If you do come into contact with these things, try to wear ear plugs or head phones. Keep your MP3 player at a low volume.
- Damage from flying or diving (barotrauma) can cause hearing loss as a result of unequal pressure between the internal parts of the ear and the external environment.
- If you have experienced any of these things, make sure to tell your doctor.
- If you've recently been sick, hearing loss can be explained by congestion or an infection that damaged your ears. In some cases, antibiotics can be used to help and the damage is rarely permanent.
Perform a self-test for hearing loss.Hearing loss can often come on gradually, but there may be signs emerging that indicate that you have a problem. By figuring out the problem early, you can often seek treatment to delay further hearing loss. Honestly assess your hearing. Don’t be too proud or scared to admit that you are having some trouble hearing.
- Determine if you have ringing in your ears. This may be a symptom of hearing loss.
- Pay attention to how things sound to you. Are you struggling to hear people, music, or television?
- Do you ask people to repeat themselves?
- For a week, pay close attention to your hearing.
Determine if you struggle with one-on-one conversations.If you are suffering from hearing loss, you may find that you struggle with normal conversations. If you are talking to someone one-on-one, you may miss things the other person has said or need the person to speak louder. You may have major difficulty following conversations involving more than two people.
- When you are talking to people, you may have to ask others to repeat themselves often.
- When you engage in conversations with people, you may think that other people sound muffled. You may also feel like people are mumbling when they talk.
- When you are in a conversation with other people, you may find yourself agreeing or nodding your head even though you're not sure what's been said.
Notice whether you can hear clearly in noisy situations.Another sign you may be suffering from hearing loss is that you have trouble hearing in noisy environments. When there is background noise around you, you have difficulty hearing conversations, music, or the television. You may also experience difficulty hearing certain environmental sounds, such as birds chirping.
- You may have trouble hearing in noisy situations, like conferences, restaurants, malls, or crowded meeting rooms.
- You may have difficulty in conversations involving more than one person because there are too many sounds for you to hear or differentiate between.
Think about if you’re changing your behavior.One side effect of hearing loss you may not even realize you are doing is changing your behavior because of your hearing. Decide if you are withdrawing from social situations that you once enjoyed because of difficulty hearing. For example, you may have stopped attending functions you used to enjoy, like plays, concerts, or movies, because you can’t hear.
- Think about if you have changed habits at home. Do you turn up the volume on the television louder than you used to? Do you listen to your music at a louder volume than you used to?
- Figure out if you avoid phone calls because you can’t hear the person on the other end.
- Determine if you now read lips in the movies or on TV, or if you intently watch a person's mouth while they are speaking. You may also have started watching television with the subtitles on because you can’t understand what the people are saying.
Notice if other people comment on your hearing.Maybe you haven’t noticed any changes in your hearing because it has been gradual. However, other people may start to comment on your hearing loss. Think about whether or not other people have mentioned that your difficulty hearing is a concern. You may also notice that people are getting surprised or perplexed because you misunderstand what they say.
- Do people that you talk to seem bothered that they need to repeat themselves? Notice if other people are annoyed when they are talking to you because you are having trouble understanding them.
- Are other people complaining that you turn the volume of the television or radio too loud?
- Have people commented that you talk too loudly?
- Do people change their speech pattern when repeating themselves to help you understand them? Examples of this include talking louder, facing you directly when speaking, or slowing their speech and exaggerating their lip movements. This may indicate that the individual thought they were speaking at an audible level previously and suspects that you have hearing loss.
Getting Tested For Hearing Loss
Visit an ear, nose, and throat doctor.If you suspect hearing loss, you should visit an ear, nose, and throat specialist to get a physical exam. You may be required to give a medical history and explain certain behaviors or habits related to your hearing. This doctor will rule out any underlying medical condition that may be causing your hearing loss.
- Your doctor will physically examine the ear to see if there is excess water or wax in the ear causing hearing problems.
- You may want to visit your general physician first if you are not sure if you have any hearing loss.
Visit an audiologist.You may choose to see an audiologist for a hearing exam. If you see a general physician or ear, nose, and throat specialist first, they may refer you to an audiologist when they discover any hearing damage. If you know you have hearing damage, you may choose to go to the audiologist first, but you may have to sign a waiver since the FDA requires a patient to go to a general physician first before an audiologist.
- Your audiologist can help you determine the extent and type of hearing loss that you have.
- An audiologist will also help you determine what treatment options are right for you, such as hearing aids.
Ask for a pure-tone test.You may be given a pure tone test to help determine the extent of your hearing loss. A pure-tone hearing test determines the tones you can hear. You will be required to wear earphones as you listen to different low and high pitches. The test helps determine what frequencies you cannot hear.
- You will also be given different pitches in each ear. Your ears may have different types or severities of hearing loss, so this test will help determine the specific hearing loss for each ear.
Get a middle ear test.The audiologist may also want to perform tests that evaluate how your middle ear is functioning. These tests look for any fluid in the middle ear, if there are problems with the eardrum, or if wax is blocking the ear canal. The doctor may also check for the amount of air in the ear canal, which can give vital information about the eardrum.
- Acoustic reflex measures can help the audiologist figure out where the hearing loss is and what type of hearing loss you have.
- Middle ear tests are most common with young children, but they are performed on adults.
Undergo further testing.There are other tests the audiologist can perform to check for hearing loss. You may be speech tested, where you repeat back a speech that you listen to. You may also undergo auditory brainstem response (ABR), where electrodes monitor your inner ear and the brain pathways used for hearing.
- These tests may not be necessary to determine your hearing loss or the type of hearing loss you are experiencing.
Recognizing Hearing Loss Symptoms in Children
Recognize the signs and symptoms of hearing loss for infants.Many times hearing loss is associated with age or an infection, but can also be present right from the start of a child's life. Infants can be more difficult to gauge because they cannot directly communicate their symptoms like adults or even older children. If you notice any of these symptoms in your infant, they may have hearing issues:
- Your child does not turn to the source of a sound by three to four months of age. By four months your child should awaken or startle to loud sounds, calm at the sound of familiar voices, and respond to familiar voices occasionally with smiles or coos.
- Your child pays attention to vibrating noises or noises that can be felt rather than heard.
- Your child turns their head when they see you, but not if you only call out their name. This is usually mistaken for not paying attention or the child just ignoring you, but it could be the result of a partial hearing loss.
Look for signs of hearing difficulties in toddlers.Toddlers may also experience hearing problems. This is a critical stage for development since important speech skills are gained through listening and imitation. Paying attention to language development is a good way to recognize hearing difficulties.
- By 24 months, toddlers should be able to point to familiar objects, listen to stories and songs, and follow basic commands. If a child over the age of two is unable to express basic needs or only make certain sounds, they may be having trouble hearing.
- Rule out other explanations for language problems. Many children may have oral-motor problems that are part of neurological or cognitive delays. It could also be a physical problem with the mouth or tongue. A speech pathologist will be able to evaluate whether the problem is physical in the mouth or ear, or whether there could be other explanations.
Recognize hearing loss in school-age children.Children who attend school may see performance related problems develop. If your child is sitting closer to the teacher to understand them, asks for things to be repeated, or doesn’t respond to noises, they may be suffering from hearing issues.
- If your child’s academic performance is suffering, it may be a sign of hearing problems. Children may have trouble following directions or listening to information. You can ask your child about their hearing, but some children may be embarrassed or not realize their hearing is different than other people’s.
- Your child may have problems interacting with other children or not be developing socially like they should because of hearing problems.
- Most schools have hearing specialists that can perform further testing on your child.
Looking for Signs of Hearing Loss in Other Adults
Observe how the adult reacts to when approached.If you have an adult, especially an elderly adult, who seems to be startled easily when someone approaches them, they may have a hearing loss. For example, if you knock and enter a room, and they act startled when they finally see you, they may be having trouble hearing what's happening in their environment.
- The adult may also not realize someone has entered their home or the room until after the fact.
- The adult may not realize someone is speaking to them until they are physically touched or they have turned towards the person speaking.
- This can difficult and frustrating, especially for elderly people. Take extra steps to ensure you don't startle them to prevent any traumatic reactions.
Notice changes in basic interactions.Hearing loss in someone else can be difficult to recognize since you are not experiencing the symptoms. Look for signs like turning the TV volume up excessively, constantly asking you to repeat yourself, or a general lack of awareness of sounds around them.
- Any of the problems commonly mentioned above in recognizing hearing loss in yourself can also apply.
Take measures to help them cope with hearing changes.If you know someone who has experienced hearing loss, you can try to help them cope and adapt to the change. This can include getting them devices that amplify the radio or television, hearing aids, or even louder alerts for basic necessities like alarm clocks and phones. You can also help by speaking clearly in front of them and avoiding loud environments that can drown out people around them and cause frustration.
- You may want to take them to an audiologist or a doctor that can evaluate them and recommend treatments.
Coping with Hearing Loss
Use adaptive behaviors.One of the most difficult parts of hearing loss can be learning to adjust your lifestyle. When someone is talking, try to stand directly in front of them so that mouth movements can clue you in on what they're saying.
- If you're in a crowded place, sit closely so that mouth-to-eye contact is easy and unnoticed by the larger group. When possible, try to avoid noisy places.
- Use a phone or television amplifying device to help make your day-to-day life easier.
Use technology to improve hearing.The medical technology to help with hearing loss has greatly improved in recent years. On the most basic level, a hearing aid will take sounds from around you and amplify them into your ear. There are a number of different hearing aids depending on the extent of your problems and personal problems.
- One type of hearing aid is an ear canal hearing aids. These go down into your ear canal. They are not very noticeable, so they may be a good choice for discretion. These don't need much power to work, so you don't have to change the batteries often. The ear canal hearing aid can cause wax build-up in the ear canal.
- Another type of hearing aid is an in the ear hearing aid. These fit the lower or upper part of your ear. They are used most frequently for people with minor hearing problems. This type of hearing aid has a large battery, so they have a longer life than some of the other types. They may also cause a build-up of wax in the ear.
- The third type of hearing aid is the behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aid. These have a hook that goes over your ear and sits just behind your ear. This piece connects to a part that is put into your ear canal. This type of hearing aid is large and noticeable; however, it has more power to pick up hard-to-hear sounds.
- The last type of hearing aid is an open fit hearing aid. This is a type of BTE model, but with no piece inside the ear canal. This lets sounds at a low-frequency enter the ear naturally, while the hearing aid amplifies higher frequencies that may be hard to hear. This type of hearing aid is more intricate with more parts, so it can be more difficult to use.
- If hearing aids are not proving effective, speak to your physician regarding other options such as a cochlear implant. This type of device works differently than a hearing aid. It is inserted surgically and functions to directly stimulate the nerves present in the inner ear that send signals to the brain for hearing.
Turn the negative into a positive.You may notice how your hearing loss is negatively affecting your interactions with friends and, family; it may also be affecting your work. However, losing your hearing doesn't need to spell doom. Many times a loss of hearing can help people develop rich inner lives rather than constantly being drawn into what is happening around them.
- Educate those around you on your shifting needs. It can be frustrating if your family or friends are not altering their interactions with you, but they can't know what you don't tell them. Be an advocate for yourself and tell them what makes life easier for you. This will eliminate a lot of tension that may come up and force open communications.
- Have a hearing test at least once a year. Testing at hearing aid centers are usually free and it is not painful, but rather fun.
- In a car, the engine, road, or wind noise can make it hard to hear a conversation, the radio, or important traffic sounds.
- Hearing loss does not get better if untreated.
- Cupping your hand behind your ear can help a little, but it’s no substitute for a properly fitted hearing instrument. And remember - hearing loss is more noticeable than a hearing aid!
- If a physical impairment is causing you to not hear properly, ignoring the symptoms can cause you to go completely deaf, depending on what the symptoms are.
- Do not let finances stand in the way of taking a hearing test even if you do not want to buy a hearing aid.
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