Carola has worked 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 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 of the venue.
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 disability advocate, I have observed that a lack of awareness of hearing loss is a widespread problem.
Human beings hear frequencies (pitches) ranging from extremely 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. As a result, people can 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.
1. Physical Symptoms
It is exhausting and stressful to strain to hear and understand conversations all day. Sometimes this results in headaches and fatigue. In the past, we were aware of our environment and knew what was going on.
Hearing loss may make us feel confused and isolated in noisy situations. Some people experience constant ringing in their 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.
3. Cranking Up the Volume
When we listen to music or watch TV at home, the people around us stick their fingers in their ears and complain about the high volume. However, when we turn it down to what others think is a normal volume, we feel like we are watching a silent movie. Hearing loss does not only occur among older adults. Young people in their 20s who have had long-term exposure to loud music may also have this condition.
We find it difficult to hear on the phone, even with the volume at maximum. We may also hear better in one ear than the other. Women and children’s voices are harder to understand because their voices are at a higher frequency.
4. Misunderstanding What People Say
Some people are embarrassed by their inability to hear properly. They do not want to ask a speaker to repeat themselves yet again. They try to fake comprehension or give a blank stare. In the same way, we may misinterpret what people say and give a wrong answer, which can be more embarrassing than asking people to repeat themselves.
5. People Seem to Be Mumbling
The people around us seem to be speaking at a lower level and are not expressing themselves clearly. Sound is muffled and sounds the same as if we had cotton in our ears. A few times per day, we may be responding, "What?” It is possible that the problem is with our hearing and not the way they are talking.
6. Disliking Crowded or Noisy Situations
We enjoy meeting friends for coffee or going out for the evening, but we cannot distinguish their voices from the background noise. Conversations with two or more people talking at the same time are difficult to follow in situations such as eating dinner with the family or being at a business meeting. As we age, our ability to process multiple and competing signals may deteriorate.
7. Problems Dealing With Traffic
We may have difficulty assessing traffic risks. People with hearing loss find it difficult to determine the distance and speed of approaching cars while crossing the road.
8. We Miss Everyday Sounds
We sleep through our alarms, do not hear phones ringing, or miss dings on our cell phones. We may not hear the wind in the trees or the birds chirping. We may strain to follow conversations.
People think we are less attentive because we may struggle to hear people calling us from another room and miss comments people make behind us. Family or friends may express concerns that we are less attentive than usual.
Getting Tested and Treated
Hearing can fade slowly over time. If more than two or three of these signs apply to us, it may be time to get our hearing tested. Several organizations such as the Hearing Loss Association of America can help us by providing more information, support, and listings of hearing professionals or clinic near us.
A hearing professional can determine 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.
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 United States 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.