Often when people first notice a change in the way they hear it doesn’t occur to them that they could be experiencing hearing loss. In fact, most people tend to think of hearing loss as an all-or-nothing sort of condition when, in actuality, hearing loss exists on a wide spectrum. Let’s take a look at what hearing loss is, what it isn’t, and when it is important to address hearing issues.
What Does Hearing Loss Sound Like?
Most people assume that having hearing loss means being unable to hear any sound – almost like having the world fall silent around you. While this degree of profound hearing loss is possible, it certainly isn’t the most common way hearing loss manifests.
Most people experience hearing loss as a condition that gradually worsens over time as the sense of hearing becomes less acute. Instead of sounds simply “vanishing” from our hearing, they simply begin to sound less distinct. Instead of sounding crisp and clear, the speech of others begins to sound muffled or mumbled and it becomes hard to parse what is being said. Similarly, the ear can often detect noises in the surrounding environment, but it becomes harder to figure out the direction they are coming from.
What Makes Hearing Loss Gradual?
Hearing loss most often sounds like you are losing the details of sound – and that is precisely what it is. Our hearing depends on very small sensory cells that cannot be replaced in the body. These cells, called “hair cells”, line the inner ear and have the important job of picking up sound waves in the air. Because they are so tiny and fine, they can be easily damaged and, unfortunately, damage to the hair cells has no way of being repaired.
Over the course of our life, damaged hair cells accrue, meaning there are fewer functional hair cells to respond to incoming sound. Significant hearing loss is most often the result of too many of these hair cells being destroyed to deliver an adequate sound signal to the brain.
When Do I Need a Hearing Exam?
Because of the gradual nature of much hearing loss, it can be hard to assess when your hearing is distinctly becoming a problem. However, just because you aren’t thinking of your hearing issues as significant doesn’t mean that they aren’t a big deal. Detecting and treating hearing loss early is usually the best time to adapt to treatment and can curtail negative effects and implications of hearing loss before they arise.
The answer to “When should I get a hearing exam?” is whenever you notice a change in the way you hear. Trouble understanding speech – especially in very high or low pitched voices – is a telltale sign that you may be dealing with issues with your hearing. Age also plays a role in hearing loss risk, so even if you aren’t noticing hearing changes, it is important to have your hearing checked more often as you get older. Before age 55, we recommend a hearing exam at least once every 5 years. After age 55, you’ll want to see a hearing specialist more often, at least every 2-3 years.
The Many Benefits of Early Treatment
Leaving a hearing issue unaddressed can have some pretty serious consequences. For instance, untreated hearing loss elevates many negative quality of life risks including depression, isolation and anxiety. The likelihood of dangerous falling accidents and developing dementia also increases greatly when hearing loss goes untreated.
Addressing your hearing loss will usually mean treating the condition with hearing aids. Hearing aids help you better engage in conversations, enjoy music and entertainment, and keep up at school or on the job. If hearing loss is allowed to progress it fundamentally changes the way your brain processes sound, making it harder to adapt to treatment the longer you wait.
Is It OK to Put Off Getting Hearing Aids?
Honestly, it isn’t ever a good choice to avoid addressing your hearing loss. Treating your hearing loss while it doesn’t seem like a major issue can actually help prevent it from ever becoming one. Waiting to treat hearing loss often means waiting until it becomes a drag on your life and is harder to treat. If you’re dealing with decisions around hearing loss, remember your hearing specialist is here to help- reach out to us today.