Hearing loss is a much more common health issue than you may think. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, nearly 1 in 8 people (ages 12 and older) have some degree of hearing loss in one or both ears. This means that over 40 million people navigate daily life with impaired hearing.
Though hearing loss is a pervasive condition, there are numerous misconceptions that prevent people from being proactive about their hearing health. Additionally, because it often happens gradually, it can be easily overlooked or ignored for quite some time. Untreated hearing loss can not only worsen the impairment, but contribute to the development of other chronic medical conditions such as cognitive decline (leading to dementia).
To expand your understanding of hearing loss, let’s explore a few common misconceptions!
Fiction: Hearing loss only impacts older adults
Fact: Hearing loss can and is experienced by people of all ages.
While age-related hearing loss (known as presbycusis) does significantly impact older adults:
- 25% of adults ages 65-74 have some degree of hearing loss
- 50% of adults 75 and older have disabling hearing loss
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), estimates that 20% of adults in their 20s also experience hearing loss. Additionally, millions of younger adults are at risk of developing noise induced hearing loss. As electronic devices have become integral to how we live in an increasingly digital world, we are constantly listening to music, podcasts, streaming a show etc. Headphones and earbuds are common accessories that we regularly utilize. This increases the risk of absorbing potentially harmful sounds that contribute to hearing loss.
Fiction: It isn’t a serious health condition
Fact: Hearing loss is the third most common chronic health condition that adults experience. It is also a permanent condition that cannot be cured and if untreated, it can lead to significant health issues.
A common misconception is that hearing loss is not as serious of a condition because it is not life-threatening or fatal. But the first crucial thing to know is that hearing loss is a permanent condition meaning that it is not curable. Additionally, impaired hearing can impact all aspects of life as it strains communication – integral to the foundation for how we live our lives. Strained communication affects relationships, job performance, social engagement, and overall health. Lastly, untreated hearing loss can contribute to the development of cognitive decline, personal injuries, and unemployment.
Fiction: Speaking louder solves the problem
Fact: impaired hearing cannot be cured but effectively managed. Speaking loudly is not particularly useful and can actually make things worse.
It is often assumed that if speaking loudly (shouting even) fixes the issue. However, increased volume can actually further distort the sound of speech, making it even more difficult to hear and process. This also is not a sustainable practice for effective communication.
Fiction: Loud noise can’t cause permanent damage
Fact: absorbing loud noise is one of the causes of a type of hearing loss known as noise induced hearing loss.
According to the CDC, “17% of adults aged 20–69 years (approximately 26 million) have suffered permanent damage to their hearing from excessive exposure to noise”. Sound is measured in decibels and noise above 85 decibels is potentially dangerous for our hearing health. We can be exposed to increased volumes of noise at concerts, sporting events, work, construction sites etc. Exposure to loud noise strains the hair cells in the inner ear which help translate soundwaves into electrical signals for the brain to process. The inner ear is filled with thousands of these hair cells that are sensitive and do not regenerate (unlike other types of cells). This means that when they lose sensitivity, this damage is permanent and prevents them from carrying out their critical function. This results in noise induced hearing loss.
Fiction: Hearing aids cure hearing loss
Fact: hearing aids effectively treat, but do not cure, hearing loss.
Hearing aids are the most common way that hearing loss is treated. These small electronic devices are designed to absorb, amplify, and process sound which significantly increases one’s ability to hear. It takes time to retrain your auditory system and integrate this piece of technology into daily life. But the various features and technologies hearing aids utilize, hearing health can be drastically improved!