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Hearing loss, the first signs

by | 21 Dec 2020 | Hearing, News

Hearing loss affects one in six Australians, a prevalence rate that is higher than all other national health priorities except for musculoskeletal diseases (Access Economics, 2006). Prevalence increases with age, with around 70% of 70+ year olds estimated to have significant hearing loss (Chia et al., 2007). The start of hearing loss can be very subtle, however, it is important to pay attention to these changes in your hearing abilities.  Left untreated, it might affect your communication abilities and overall quality of life.  In this article I will discuss some of the first signs of hearing loss and how this can be treated.

Battling to hear with background noise

One of the most common signs of hearing loss, is battling to hear in background noise. Clients often say: “I could hear them saying something, but I could not make out what they were saying”.  Background noise often masks certain speech sounds, leading to greater difficulty in picking up clear speech. If you have difficulty hearing certain tones, you might find it difficult to distinguish between speech signals in background noise. Most people report that speech sounds unclear and that they perceive the noise as being more prominent than the speech.

Lip reading

You might notice that you often find yourself lip reading instead of looking at the speaker’s eyes.  Through focusing on the speaker’s mouth, you add visual cues to the auditory cues.  This helps the brain to fill in the missing gaps and allows the listener to “hear” better even when the speaker did not elevate their voice.  According to one study, 40% of speech sounds in the English language can be seen and identified on the lips under good visual conditions.  Good visual conditions will include, a well-lit room, being in close proximity, and the speaker not having his/her mouth covered.  Lip reading will help the listener to “hear” better, but unfortunately lip reading is not always possible, therefore it is not a sustainable coping mechanism.

Feeling tired or exhausted after social gatherings or meetings

When you present with hearing loss, you might have to concentrate more on the speaker, lip read, and position yourself away from the noise source, in order to hear better. These extra coping mechanisms can often lead to cognitive overload, leaving the brain feeling overly tired, overwhelmed, and pre-occupied.  Unfortunately, the cognitive overload may also lead to you feeling physically tired towards the end of the day.   

Blocked feeling in your ears

Clients often report that they have blocked ears. As mentioned earlier, hearing loss can make speech sounds seem unclear or even muffled.   This leads to the client experiencing a “blocked” feeling in their ears. Clients frequently assume that they have wax build up and that, that is the cause of the blocked feeling.  Before completing a hearing assessment, the Audiologist will always do an Otoscopic examination to confirm that there is no wax buildup.

Increasing the volume on the TV, radio, or mobile phone

You might have noticed that you had to increase the volume of the TV even though your family members feel comfortable with the current level of sound.  As mentioned earlier, when we present with hearing loss, our brains rely greatly on additional cues, such as visual cues. Unfortunately, when watching TV, listening to the radio, or using the mobile phone, we do not always have these visual cues to use to our advantage.  Not having additional cues, we often find ourselves increasing the volume to help the brain to “hear” better.  This increase in volume might lead to distortion of the auditory signal and can lead to additional frustration.  Various assistive listening devices such as wireless headphones, hearing aids or FM systems to improve your overall listening comfort are available.

Asking others to repeat themselves

Another sign that you may have noticed is that you had to ask people to repeat themselves. This is one of the most common signs of hearing loss.  Often people feel too embarrassed to ask the speaker to repeat themselves and would rather withdraw from a conversation.  This might cause social anxiety which could lead to the client avoiding social gatherings and isolating themselves.  Isolation in turn might increase the risk of depression.

In summary

If you find yourself agreeing with at least two of the points mentioned in this article, you might have a hearing loss. This does not have to be a scary thought.  For each of the above-mentioned signs, there is more than one solution that our Audiologist can offer to improve your overall quality of life.

The average age of first-time hearing aid users is 70 years, and the majority live with hearing loss for around nine years before seeking help (Simpson et al., 2019). Much of this inaction can be traced back to a lack of awareness about hearing loss and its impacts, and a lack of knowledge of the various treatment options available.

The first step in the process is to schedule an appointment for a hearing assessment.  During this consultation, your Audiologist will do a thorough case history, a diagnostic hearing assessment and a comprehensive feedback session.  Our Audiologist will identify possible areas of concern and offer you tailor-made solutions for your specific needs.  After providing you with the correct solution, your Audiologist will continue to provide support to ensure that you are comfortable with the solution that was given to you.

References

Access Economics. (2006). Listen hear! The economic impact and cost of hearing loss in Australia. Victoria, Australia: Access Economics Pty Ltd.

Chia, E. M., Wang, J. J., Rochtchina, E., Cumming, R. R., Newall, P., Mitchell, P. (2007). Hearing impairment and health-related quality of life: The Blue Mountains Hearing Study. Ear and Hearing, 28(2), 187-95.

Simpson, A. N., Matthews, L.J., Cassarly, C., Dubno, J.R. (2019). Time from hearing aid candidacy to hearing aid adoption: A longitudinal cohort study. Ear and Hearing, 40(3), 468-76.

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