Hearing loss isn’t rare in the Midwest; about one in five people in Iowa, Minnesota and South Dakota suffers from some degree of hearing impairment. Not everybody chooses to seek treatment; in many cases, they have erroneous misconceptions about either their condition or treatment. Sometimes, both.
Facts About Hearing Loss
48 million Americans experience hearing loss, making it the third most common physical health condition in the U.S. Despite its prevalence, it is often misunderstood. False assumptions often prevent people from receiving the treatment they need. Because hearing loss is linked to a variety of physical, social and psychological complications, it’s important to take a look at some of the common myths in order to separate fact from fiction.
- Hearing loss is confined to older people. Age is one of the leading factors in hearing loss, but the key word here is “one.” Noise, disease, genetics, infection and trauma can all cause impaired hearing. In fact, only one-third of people with hearing loss are 65 or older; the condition affects people of all ages including children, teens and young adults.
- Hearing loss is just an annoyance. Yes, it’s certainly inconvenient, but hearing loss is more than simply annoying; it impacts many areas of your daily life and is a hazard to your physical, psychological and social health. Complications include isolation, depression, anxiety, cognitive impairment (memory loss, dementia), diabetes, kidney disease and a higher risk of falling. Individuals with hearing loss are 32 percent more likely to be hospitalized for any number of reasons. Even their bank accounts are affected; on average, hearing-impaired workers earn $12,000 less per year than equally-qualified colleagues with normal hearing.
- Hearing loss is preventable. In some cases, this is true. Noise is one of the leading causes of hearing loss, and taking steps to protect your hearing when you are younger can pay off in your later years. Wearing earplugs whenever participating in noisy activities, adopting safe listening habits (keeping the volume set at 60 percent of maximum when listening to music through earbuds and giving your ears a rest every hour or so) and scheduling routine hearing examinations will help protect against noise-induced hearing loss. However, there are many other factors associated with hearing impairment, and there is little you can do about many of them.
- Hearing loss might go away on its own. File this one under the “wishful thinking” category. When symptoms first become noticeable, it’s natural to hope that they will go away without intervention. Hearing loss is a progressive disease and comes on so gradually, by the time you realize there is a problem, it is usually much too late to take corrective action. Damage to the hair cells in the cochlea is permanent; they cannot be repaired and won’t grow back, so if you’re having trouble hearing today, tomorrow won’t bring improvement. The best way for you to communicate more effectively is by wearing hearing aids.
- Hearing aids are bulky, cumbersome and ineffective. This might have been true a couple of decades ago, but modern hearing aids have solved a lot of problems common when your grandparents wore them. They are smaller, sleeker, more comfortable and easier to operate than the devices of yesteryear. Digital technology has paved the way for many new features, such as Bluetooth connectivity and audio streaming, while solving some of the issues that plagued users in the past (e.g., distortion and feedback). Manufacturers are beginning to incorporate AI to create “smart” hearing aids that will open up a whole new world of possibilities. The fact is, hearing aids really do work, and the vast majority of users report high levels of satisfaction and a better quality of life.
Hearing loss is a global health crisis that shows no signs of slowing. Positive change requires understanding of the realities and learning to advocate for your own hearing health. Speak to an audiologist for more information on hearing loss or hearing aids.