Sign No. 1: Your spouse tells you to have your hearing checked
By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
Everyone should have a baseline hearing evaluation. But after this point, some signs can indicate that you could benefit from another evaluation.
Sometimes, a hearing loss could indicate an acute, treatable problem. Other times, hearing loss could mean that a hearing instrument could improve quality of life and communication.
“There is the possibility if they have dizziness or ringing in the ears and loss in one ear, it could be an acoustic tumor,” said Ramona Stein, Ph.D, audiologist and owner of Sounds for Life in Pittsford. “Some people also might have an ear infection, treated with medication.”
A build-up of wax in the ear could also contribute to muffled hearing.
Audiologists who discover the likelihood of a medical reason for hearing impairment refer patients to an otolaryngologist or physician for further treatment.
If hearing aids are in order, the audiologist would write a prescription for them.
“Usually, they say they can’t hear because people mumble,” Stein said. “They might hear a person is talking but can’t make out the entirety of what that person is saying. Another major indication is you have difficulty hearing in background noise in restaurant and family gatherings.
“Others in the household may say the TV or radio is turned up too loud. If you don’t hear your turn signal or notifications like the microwave is finished or the doorbell or phone ringing, you need a hearing evaluation.”
Hearing loss is more than an annoyance or quality of life issue. Stein said that people with untreated hearing loss a three times greater chance of falling. Because of the diminished auditory stimulation, those with a mild untreated hearing loss have double the likelihood of dementia. That jumps to three times the likelihood for those with a moderate hearing loss and for those with severe hearing loss, five times the likelihood.
Hearing loss can be insidious.
Audiologist Ron D’Angelo with Clear Choice Hearing & Balance in Rochester said that normally, it’s a family member who urges the person with hearing loss to seek an evaluation.
“The spouse frequently ‘translates’ what other people say,” D’Angelo said. “A lot of couples don’t even realize they do this.”
Factory work, serving in the military, playing loud music or engaging in loud hobbies like working with power tools or shooting firearms can increase the risk of gradual hearing loss. Anyone with abrupt hearing loss should seek immediate medical attention.
“People might think it’s a weakness or don’t want to admit they have a problem, but they should at least find out what the real situation is,” D’Angelo said.
Hearing aids have come a long way since the bulky, taupe-colored hearing aids of a generation ago. Today’s top-of-the-line models are Bluetooth-enabled to allow them to tune into Smart TVs and cell phones. They can cost a few thousand dollars. However, the improvement they offer is unparalleled.
It may seem a good option to select an inexpensive over-the-counter amplifier. However, these devices often prove a waste of money, according to Joe Kozelsky, retired audiologist and honorary board member of the Hearing Loss Association of America Rochester Chapter in Fairport.
“It is very easy to make sounds louder,” Kozelsky said. “Therefore, that is inexpensive. It is much harder to make sounds louder but more comfortable.
The problem is to make sure that the sounds amplified are within the person’s comfortable listening range. This is part of where the expense comes in. Hearing aids are a lot more complicated than most people think.
They’re unlike any other listening device you’d have such as a cell phone, iPad or anything you’d put in your ear.”
The main difference is that hearing aids are both input and output devices.
Commonplace electronics are just output devices. Instead of an audio engineer at a soundboard perfecting the sound that goes through a phone or iPad, a hearing aid does this on the fly.
“This is difficult to do and every advanced circuitry is involved and that’s where the cost lies,” Kozelsky said.
Amplifiers simply make all sound around the person louder, but cannot determine which sounds are desirable so that less desirable sounds are not the focus. Modern hearing aids can also determine the origin of a sound so the aid on that side turns up and the other side turns down.
Hearing aids can also record how much they are used and in what types of environments they’re used so that the provider can adjust them further.
“This information is not available in over-the-counter devices and personal sound amplifier products,” Kozelsky said.
He encourages people with hearing loss to visit a provider close to home so they can more readily receive service for their hearing aids as needed.
“Do not respond to the ads that offer huge discounts or the national representative who comes into town for three days and you have a ‘wonderful opportunity’ to speak with him to get the best hearing aids recommended for you,” Kozelsky said. “They’re provided by the local facility.
The national consultant will make a recommendation for you and you’ll never see them again. They also receive a very substantial portion of the purchase price.”
Kozelsky welcomes people concerned about their hearing or who have a diagnosed hearing loss to sign up for the organization’s monthly remote sessions on Zoom.
“People can ask questions and we have a series of lectures and presentations for people with hearing loss and hearing aids,” Kozelsky said.
Those interested can sign up and find more information on hearing loss at hearinglossrocheter.org.