Despite widespread prevalence and awareness of hearing loss, many misconceptions persist about what it means for our lives, how it is acquired, and how to communicate in light of it. Let’s take a look at some of the common facts & fictions about hearing loss and bring a little more understanding to some of the issues surrounding it.
Fact: Hearing Loss Is Exhausting
Those with hearing loss become socially fatigued more easily than those with normal hearing. Under normal circumstances, a part of our brains called the “auditory cortex” interprets speech and commits it to short-term memory, which is located nearby. When we have hearing loss, our auditory cortex receives less information. What speech does get through, rather than being automatically interpreted, requires additional effort from the frontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for higher-order thinking.
We piece together sentence fragments and muddled words using context clues, facial expressions and lipreading in order to try to make sense of what another person is saying, and this wears us out pretty quickly. MRI studies have found that when a person with even mild hearing loss hears human speech, the frontal cortex becomes more active than in a person with normal hearing. When we treat our hearing loss with hearing aids, social fatigue becomes much less of an issue.
Fiction: It’s Okay to Put Off Getting Hearing Aids
Only 1 in 5 people who could benefit from hearing aids currently wears them. What’s more, people tend to wait an average of 7 years from the time they notice hearing loss to the time they get hearing aids.
As mentioned above, hearing loss causes us to use our brains differently, even with minimal hearing loss in effect. Treating hearing loss as soon as it is recommended by an audiologist is the best way to keep our brain health going strong. When hearing loss is allowed to progress untreated, the auditory cortex will atrophy. This can cause memory issues and ultimately promote an earlier onset of cognitive decline and dementia. By starting to wear hearing aids, we’re literally preserving our mental health even as our hearing loss progresses.
Fact: Hearing Loss Does Not Always Become Profound
Many people fear that once they have hearing loss it will get worse and worse until they can’t hear at all. While this does sometimes happen, it is by no means preordained. In fact, once age-related hearing loss begins, it tends to worsen for a while and then plateau at some level. It is best to treat hearing loss with hearing aids throughout this process, as hearing aids can be adjusted to meet new requirements as the hearing loss progresses.
Fiction: There’s Nothing that Can Prevent Hearing Loss
While there is a genetic component to hearing loss, modifiable risk factors have been identified. They include:
- Noise Exposure – An average noise level of 85 dBA is enough to cause permanent hearing loss after 8 hours of exposure. For every additional 3 dBA, the safe time of exposure is cut in half. Many people are exposing themselves to dangerous noise levels without realizing it, as 85 dBA is far lower than necessary to cause discomfort.
- Diet – A study conducted by Brigham and Women’s Hospital found that those who adhered closely to an anti-inflammatory diet were far less likely to have hearing loss over a four year period than those who ate a typical American diet.
- Smoking – The risk depends on the amount of cigarettes smoked per day, but smokers are at a 20–60% increased risk of hearing loss than non-smokers. The risk increases even for those who live with a smoker. For those who quit smoking, the risk returns to normal after 5 years. Smoking also seems to increase the risk of noise-induced hearing loss. A Japanese study found that workers who spent the same amount of time at the same noisy machines each day had more hearing loss when they smoked.
While reducing your exposure to modifiable risk factors is no guarantee that you won’t have hearing loss, it’s likely to prevent it or at least reduce the severity of the hearing loss when it comes. If you have some hearing loss already, protecting your ears, changing your diet, and stopping smoking now is very likely to slow its progress and make it less profound in the end.
Hearing Aids Can Help
If you or someone you love is having hearing issues, getting a hearing test now is the best thing to do. Starting to treat hearing loss as soon as possible is the best way to maintain a healthy lifestyle even as hearing loss progresses, so make an appointment for a hearing test today and find out what hearing aids can do to improve your life.