Sure, you sometimes have to ask people to repeat themselves, and the volume knob on the car stereo is set much farther to the right than it used to be. But you can’t be experiencing hearing loss – you’re not a senior citizen. Hearing loss only affects the old, right?
Not necessarily. “Only 40 percent of people with hearing loss are older than 64,” says Dr. Sergei Kochkin, executive director of the Better Hearing Institute (BHI) in Washington, D.C. “The largest age group with hearing loss is people between 18 and 64 – about 19 million people compared to 14 million at retirement age.
More than 1 million school-aged children have hearing problems, as well.”
The idea that hearing loss only happens to the aged – and is an unavoidable circumstance of aging – is just one of many commonly believed myths about the issue. The truth is that hearing loss affects all age groups.
If you want to avoid hearing loss, it pays to know the truth behind the myths and the basics of hearing loss prevention.
Here are some common myths about hearing loss, and the truth behind the myths:
Myth: If I had hearing loss, my family doctor would have told me.
Truth: Only 15 percent of doctors routinely screen for hearing loss during a physical exam.
Even when a doctor does screen for hearing problems, the results may be suspect since most people with hearing problems hear pretty well in quiet environments – like a doctor’s office.
Without special training on hearing loss, it may be difficult for your family doctor to even realize you have a hearing problem.
Myth: Nothing can be done about my hearing loss.
Truth: People with hearing loss in one ear, with a high-frequency hearing loss, or with nerve damage may have been told by their family doctor that nothing can be done to help. Modern technology has changed that. Now, nearly 95 percent of people with hearing loss can be helped, most with hearing aids.
Myth: Only people with serious hearing loss need hearing aids.
Truth: Your lifestyle, your need for refined hearing, and the degree of your hearing loss will determine whether you need a hearing aid. If you’re in a profession that relies on your ability to discern the nuances of human conversation - such as a lawyer, teacher or group psychotherapist - even mild hearing loss can interfere with your life.
Myth: Hearing aids are big and ugly. Wearing one will make me look old or disabled.
Truth: Untreated hearing loss is far more noticeable than today’s hearing aids. If you miss the punch line of a joke, or respond inappropriately to a comment or question, people may wonder about your mental capacity.
Hearing aid makers realize people are concerned about how they will look wearing a hearing aid. Today, you can find miniature hearing aids that fit totally within the ear canal or behind your ear, making them virtually invisible.
Myth: Hearing loss is an inevitable part of growing older, and there’s nothing I can do to prevent it from happening to me.
Truth: You can take steps to prevent hearing loss. Noise is one of the most common causes of hearing loss; 10 million Americans have already suffered irreversible damage to their hearing from noise. Yet a third of all hearing loss could be prevented with proper ear protection.
Myth: I can’t afford hearing aids.
Truth: There is a wide price range in hearing aids on the market just like there is for other consumer products.
In addition, BHI has identified close to 100 sources for financial help in their eGuide “Your Guide to Financial Assistance with Hearing Aids.”
If you work in a high-risk profession, make sure your hearing is protected according to OSHA regulations, and wear hearing protection such as foam or silicone plugs or earmuffs.
At home, lower the volume on the TV, radio, stereo and any device that uses earbuds or headphones. Wear ear protection while mowing the lawn or blowing leaves or snow.
Buy quieter products (compare decibel ratings) and reduce the number of noisy appliances running at the same time in your home. Before taking a new medicine, be sure to ask the doctor about any possible side effects on your hearing.
To learn more about hearing loss, treatment for hearing loss and hearing loss prevention, visit the Better Hearing Institute online at www.BetterHearing.org. Or take the BHI’s online hearing test at www.hearingcheck.org.