December 4, 2015

Listen up: Take notice of the signs of hearing loss


Family can pick up on hearing loss that is gradual, less detectable to a loved one.

The loud TV – that grows louder with each visit – is a giveaway. And while some families take it in stride and adjust, frequently turning up the volume can be a sign of hearing loss with implications far beyond hearing every word of “NCIS.”

Hearing loss is one of the most common health issues in the United States, with an estimated 36 million Americans experiencing some form. Yet most people wait an average of seven to 10 years before taking any action to correct it.

What’s the cost? Even mild hearing loss can create problems for the person affected: You don’t always know what you are missing. Issues mount, as misunderstandings lead to unnecessary disagreements and loss of the human connection can lead to social isolation. Depression, anxiety, stress, frustration and even some degree of paranoia can follow.

The holidays bring more time with family and a prime time for spotting issues that might be gradual and less noticeable to the person whose hearing is fading.

“There are some of the more obvious signs such as having to ask others to repeat themselves or having to turn the television up louder than other people would prefer,” said Jill Gruenwald, an audiologist and assistant director of the Adult Hearing Aid Program at Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center. “But sometimes, it will be more subtle. They will only notice a problem if they’re in background noise, such as a restaurant, and they don’t seem to hear as well as the other people at the table, or they won’t catch details on the telephone the way they used to.

“Hearing loss tends to be gradual so you may not notice over the last three years that the volume bar has gotten higher until there’s someone else in the house saying, ‘Wow, that’s pretty loud.’”

These are the signs and symptoms of hearing loss, provided by the Vanderbilt Wilkerson Center and the American Academy of Audiology:
• Other people’s speech seems loud enough but it is unclear. Do people seem to be mumbling all the time?
• You miss parts of conversations or have trouble following them. Do others often have to repeat themselves when you’re talking?
• You find yourself frequently turning up the volume of the television or the radio.
• You hear better in quiet rooms than in places where there is background noise, like restaurants and malls.
• Your family tells you that you do not hear well.
• You have trouble hearing someone speak when he or she is in another room or not facing you.
• You experience ringing, buzzing or hissing sounds in your ears.

Causes of hearing loss include exposure to excessive loud noise; ear infections, trauma or ear disease; damage to the inner ear and ear drum from contact with a foreign object, such as cotton swabs; illnesses or certain medications; and deteriorating hearing caused by the normal aging process, the academy says.

If you suspect you or your loved one has a hearing loss, the next step is consulting a qualified audiologist for a full communications needs assessment. One assessment can provide patients a baseline or help them decide if they need to explore an array of devices, including hearing aids, that can help improve hearing.

People of all ages come to Bill Wilkerson after noticing that they’re asking for others to repeat themselves more often, or because a family member has noticed developing issues, Gruenwald said.

“One of the very first things that we do is test hearing,” Gruenwald said. “So if somebody is wondering if they have hearing loss or they’re wondering if it truly is selective hearing, the assessment can be the final say.”

The Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center specializes in ear, nose, and throat diseases, and communication disorders such as hearing, speech, language, and voice problems. Learn more and book an appointment.