Why Silence isn’t Always Golden

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By Kathy Landon, V.P. Branding & Professional Services, Sonic

This is the first in a three-part series on hearing loss. Here we examine hearing loss in general terms and provide information on the various causes, types and effects hearing loss can have. 

Hearing loss is an ailment that, according to a recent study from Johns Hopkins University, affects 26.7 million Americans age 50 and older. Of those, only one in seven uses a hearing aid.

Why is Hearing Important?

To be fully, actively, engaged in life, hearing is essential. Research consistently indicates the considerable negative social, psychological, cognitive and health effects of untreated hearing loss. Those who have difficulty hearing can experience such diminished communication that it seriously impacts their professional and personal lives.

Studies have linked untreated hearing loss to:

  • irritability and anger
  • fatigue, stress, and depression
  • avoidance or withdrawal from social situations
  • social rejection and loneliness
  • reduced alertness and increased risk to personal safety
  • impaired memory and ability to learn new tasks
  • reduced job performance and earning power
  • diminished psychological and overall health

The most common causes of hearing loss are age and overexposure to loud noise. However, hearing loss can also occur:

  • As a result of infection during gestation
  • Through infection of the middle ear
  • After a head injury
  • If the eardrum is perforated
  • As a result of some cancer treatments
  • As a result of taking certain medications

Signs and Symptoms

The signs of hearing loss can be subtle and emerge slowly, or they can be significant and come on suddenly. Either way, there are common indications:

Social:

  • require frequent repetition
  • difficulty following conversations involving more than 2 people
  • think that other people sound muffled or like they’re mumbling
  • difficulty hearing in noisy situations, like conferences, restaurants, or crowded rooms
  • trouble hearing children and women
  • require TV or radio turned up to a high volume
  • answer or respond inappropriately in conversations
  • ringing in the ears
  • read lips or more intently watch people’s faces when they speak

Emotionally:

  • feel stressed from straining to hear what others are saying
  • feel annoyed at other people because you can’t hear or understand them
  • feel embarrassed to meet new people or from misunderstanding what others are saying
  • feel nervous about trying to hear and understand
  • withdraw from social situations because of difficulty hearing

Medically:

  • have a family history of hearing loss.
  • take medications that can harm the hearing system (ototoxic drugs).
  • have diabetes, heart, circulation or thyroid problems.
  • have been exposed to very loud sounds over a long period or single exposure to explosive noise.

If any of these signs or symptoms are present, a hearing care professional should be consulted.

Types of Hearing Loss

Hearing loss can occur at any age or for any number of reasons. In general, there are three types of hearing loss: conductive, sensorineural or mixed (which is a combination of both). A hearing care professional will be able to determine the type of loss, and the best treatment options.

Degrees of Hearing Loss

Hearing loss is not appropriately or meaningfully measured by percentage. Hearing is tested across many different frequencies or pitches, and it is common to have more hearing loss at some frequencies than for others. Therefore, the percentage of hearing loss would be different at each test frequency, making it virtually meaningless when describing the overall hearing loss.

The degree of hearing loss is measured by a hearing care professional in a test that measures audiometric thresholds – that is, the lowest sound level that a person is able to hear at a specific frequency. The higher the threshold, the more severe the hearing loss.

With so many people experiencing and failing to acknowledge hearing loss, it’s imperative that education be a primary objective of those in the health care industry. The next installment of this series will highlight how to get help if the reader suspects they have a hearing loss.

Kathy Landon joined Sonic in 2000. Prior to her current position, she held various positions within the company, most recently having been vice president of products and marketing. During her tenure with Sonic, Ms. Landon has been integral to the company’s software and hardware product development efforts.

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