January 31, 2021
“What was that again?”
If asking people to speak up or repeat themselves sounds familiar, you may be living with hearing loss. Changes in the way you hear aren’t always easy to notice – they often happen quite gradually so you don’t perceive the accumulating difficulties in your hearing day-to-day. A key component to notice is whether communication with others is becoming more challenging. Hearing loss doesn’t always sound like you would expect it to, so let’s take a look at some signs that may be signalling hearing loss.
The perception of many people is that hearing loss is indicated by a total -or near-total- lack of incoming sound. Instead, with most hearing loss you can still hear familiar sounds, but with a pronounced lack of clarity. People with hearing loss will often be able to hear a person talking, but will not be able to fully follow what they are saying. Words will increasingly sound muffled or mumbled and you may come to rely heavily on lip reading and other context clues to fully comprehend what is being said. Because our sense of high frequency hearing is the most vulnerable to hearing loss, high pitched voices, like those of children, are often the most difficult to accurately hear.
Nearly everyone has had to ask for a missed word or phrase to be repeated to them, but when hearing loss is present, hearing difficulties occur frequently rather than occasionally. If you catch yourself asking for speech to be reiterated to you daily, it is a potential indicator that you are living with hearing loss.
When hearing loss limits the clarity of the sound we hear, it can come to us sounding like other people’s mumbled speech is the core problem rather than our own hearing. However, most people speak with a volume and clarity legible to healthy hearing. While some people do mumble, if you are perceiving many people around you as speaking at an overly soft volume or with muffled speech, the issue may, in fact, be the way you are hearing them. Assess how often you ask for speech to be clarified – including situations where you wanted to ask but held back. If you need speech reiterated daily or from many different speakers it is time to schedule a hearing exam.
Another sign linked to communication and hearing challenges is a shift in your social behavior. As we’ve already outlined, hearing loss can make it difficult to comprehend speech and that, in turn, can limit our participation in conversations with others. When hearing loss makes following a conversation frustrating or exhausting it can transform our engagement with others from a pleasure into a burden.
Difficulty hearing in noisy or crowded settings limits the enjoyment we receive from being in social settings and this diminished experience can change our social patterns dramatically. Hearing loss can subtly alter our experience of treasured experiences like parties or dinners with friends, as well as community around sports or church or school and entertainment like movies and concerts.
Next time you decline an invitation, make an assessment of your reasoning. Will a noisy restaurant make it too hard to enjoy yourself? Do you not want to travel because the sounds of the train station are overwhelming and confusing? If you are denying yourself social activities, especially those you once valued, because of how you hear, it is time to consult with a hearing specialist.
In recent years, scientists and researchers have learned much more about a phenomenon commonly called “hidden” hearing loss. Hidden hearing loss occurs when there is permanent nerve damage occurring within the auditory nerve, while most hearing loss is caused by damage to the sensory cells of the inner ear. Those with hidden hearing loss can pass a standard tonal hearing test, but still struggle to comprehend speech in noisy situations. While hearing loss occurring within the inner ear is permanent, there may be the possibility of regenerating or repairing the nerve structures that cause hidden hearing loss.