Carola has worked and volunteered for agencies serving the hearing loss community for many years. She is also a freelance writer.
Hearing loss can creep up on us subtly over time. We may not realize that it is at the root of some of our frustrations. At first, we may blame other people for our struggle to understand them. We say that they are not speaking loudly or clearly enough, or complain that a telephone line is bad. We fume because we think that others are unfairly impatient when we keep asking them to repeat themselves. We may accuse people of mumbling and blame our inability to distinguish voices in a noisy place on the loudness that surrounds us. These frustrations may be signs, however, that it is time for a hearing test.
According to the website Healthy Hearing, hearing loss often occurs so gradually that many people do not notice it. Other factors such as genetics, acoustic tumors, and chemical exposure can put people at a higher risk of hearing problems. As a publisher of a news website about people with disabilities, I have observed that this lack of awareness is a widespread problem.
Human beings hear frequencies (pitches) ranging from very low to very high because of tiny sensory hair cells in the inner ears. As people age, hearing is lost in the higher frequencies first. People are able to hear in general but lose the ability to pick up or fully understand certain sounds.
Common Signs of Hearing Loss
The American Speech-Language Hearing Association and other hearing resources have identified common signs that indicate that we may have some hearing loss.
- Cranking up the volume. When you listen to music or watch TV at home, the people around you are sticking their fingers in the ears and complaining about the high volume. When you turn it down to what others think is a normal volume, you feel like you are watching silent movie. Hearing loss does not occur only among old people. Young people in their 20s who have had long-term exposure to loud music may also have this condition.
- Headaches and fatigue. It is exhausting and stressful to strain to hear and understand conversations all day. Sometimes this results in headaches and fatigue.
- Misunderstanding what people say. Some people are embarrassed by their inability to hear properly and do not want to ask a speaker to repeat themselves yet again. They try to fake comprehension or just give a blank stare. In the same way, you may misinterpret what people say and give a wrong answer, which can be more embarrassing than asking people to repeat themselves.
- People seem to be mumbling. The people around you seem to be speaking at a lower level and are not expressing themselves clearly. Sound is muffled, the same as if you had cotton in your ears. It is possible that the problem is with your hearing and not the way they are talking. More than a few times per day, you may be responding, “What?”
- Women and children are hard to understand. Women and children’s voices are harder to understand because their voices are at a higher frequency.
- Disliking crowded or noisy situations. You enjoy meeting friends for coffee or going out for the evening, but you are not able to distinguish their voices from the background noise. Conversations with two or more people talking the same time are difficult to follow in situations such as eating dinner with the family or being at a business meeting. As people grow older, their ability to process multiple and competing signals deteriorates.
- Trouble hearing on the phone. You find it difficult to hear on the phone, even with the volume at maximum. You may also hear better in one ear than the other.
- People feel you are less attentive. You may struggle to hear people calling you from another room and miss comments people make from behind you. Family or friends may express concerns that you are less attentive than usual.
- Constant ringing in the ears. This condition is known as tinnitus, and it can cause severe stress and insomnia. Evidence suggests that hearing aids can help mask sounds caused by tinnitus.
- Difficulty assessing traffic risks. People with hearing loss may find it difficult to determine the distance and speed of approaching cars while crossing the road.
- Mental confusion. In the past, you were aware of your environment and knew what was going on. With hearing loss, however, you may feel confused and isolated.
- You miss everyday sounds. You sleep through your alarm, do not hear the phone ringing, or you miss dings on your cell phone. You do not hear the wind in the trees or the birds chirping.
Get Tested and Get Treated
Hearing can fade slowly over time. If more than two or three of these signs apply to you, it may be time to get your hearing tested. There are a number of organizations such as the Hearing Loss Association of America can help you by providing more information, support, and listings of hearing professionals or clinic near you.
A hearing professional can determine the frequencies that are problematic and may be able to suggest treatment such as assistive listening devices. Hearing aids can help reduce background noise. Their ability to improve hearing reduces the risk of the embarrassment of not understanding directions, or missing the punch line to a joke.
For More Information
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2016 Carola Finch
Lori Colbo from Pacific Northwest on March 17, 2017:
I'm catching up on your hubs. I have a funny story about hearing loss. Last year my doctor referred me to an ENT about hearing loss. The guy was about as personable as a glass of water. He was asking me lots of questions, then stood behind me doing something or other then came to my side. He then said, "Have you had a urine test lately?" I thought to myself, what does a urine test have to do with hearing loss. But I answered, "Well, actually I have." He asked what it showed. I said it showed I had a urinary tract infection. He stopped what he was doing and looked at me like I was some sort of imbecile. He said "I asked if you've had a hearing test." I doubled over howling and said I told you I can't hear. He found no humor in it whatsoever. Needless to say, I never went back but I was tempted to leave a urine sample as payback for being a such bore.