October is Protect Your Hearing Month

October is Protect Your Hearing Month

Kate Marnell, HIS

October is Protect Your Hearing Month! Hearing loss is one of the most common medical conditions that people experience today, impacting nearly 1 in 8 (or 48 million) people. You can prioritize your hearing health this month by scheduling an appointment for a hearing test. 

What Causes Hearing Loss?

There are several factors that can contribute to the development of hearing loss. Common causes include the following: 

  • Exposure to loud noise: whether you consistently take in loud noise or are just exposed one time, the impact can lead to permanent hearing loss. Loud noise can severely damage the hair cells that are in the inner ear. These hair cells help translate incoming sound waves into electrical signals that travel to the brain where its assigned meaning – this process is what enables us to understand what we hear. Loud noise can cause these hair cells, there are thousands in each ear, to lose sensitivity and/or die. This prevents them from carrying out their function, leading to hearing loss. 
  • Existing medical conditions: there are numerous medical conditions that increase the risk of hearing loss. This includes cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and diabetes. Chronic medical conditions affect blood and oxygen flow throughout the body including the ears. These changes can impact the capacity to absorb and process sound, leading to hearing loss. 
  • Aging: also known as presbycusis, age-related hearing loss can be caused by existing medical conditions that impact older adults disproportionately, changes to the structure of the ears, and/or the cumulative impact of noise on the auditory system. 

These factors are all correlated to hearing loss, meaning that they are known risk factors that increase the likelihood of experiencing impaired hearing. 

Hearing Loss Symptoms & Impact

Hearing loss reduces a person’s ability to detect and process sound which produces various symptoms that can deeply disrupt daily life. Common symptoms include: 

  • Tinnitus: often referred to as “ringing in the ears”, tinnitus is the perception of sound when there is no external noise present. This sound is typically described as a ringing, buzzing, or clicking-like noise that can be heard in one or both ears. 
  • Increasing the volume of electronic devices (TV, phone, speaker, etc.). 
  • Frequently asking others to speak louder, slower, and/or repeat themselves. 
  • Sounds are slurred or muffled, resulting in difficulty identifying individual words. 
  • Needing to move to a quieter space to hear more clearly. 
  • Lip reading or pretending to hear throughout a conversation 

These symptoms can be experienced mildly to severely, taking a toll on all facets of life. Symptoms strain communication which is a critical way we navigate daily life. Conversations become difficult and laborious to engage in which can lead people with untreated hearing loss to avoid it as much as possible. Social withdrawal is a common effect that means avoiding social interactions, activities, and skipping out on events. This results in spending less time with family and friends, creating distance and tension in relationships. Strained communication and relationships impact mental health by contributing to loneliness, depression, and anxiety. In addition to the impact on mental health, untreated hearing loss can increase other health risks including the development of cognitive decline and accidental injuries. 

Treating Hearing Loss 

Intervening as early as possible can change the trajectory of your hearing health. It is important to recognize hearing loss symptoms and take the steps to prioritize your hearing health. The first step is simple: schedule an appointment with a hearing healthcare specialist for a hearing test. Hearing exams involve a painless process that assesses your hearing capacity in both ears. This identifies any impairment, the specific type of hearing loss you could be experiencing, and the degree of impairment in each ear. Once your specific hearing needs are established, your hearing healthcare provider is able to recommend treatment options that effectively meet your needs. 

The most common treatment for hearing loss is hearing aids. These are savvy pieces of technology that are designed to detect, amplify, and process sound. Proving the ears and brain with significant support, hearing aids maximize hearing capacity in all environments. This not only alleviates symptoms but offers countless life-changing benefits including strengthening communication, enhancing relationships, enriching social life, and improving overall health!