October 27, 2020

Listen up: Take notice of the signs of hearing loss

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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 clue. 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 a favorite TV show.

Hearing loss is one of the most common health issues in the United States, with an estimated 38 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.

Family members can spot issues that might be gradual and less noticeable to the person whose hearing is fading.

“Obvious signs are asking others to repeat themselves or turning the television up louder than other people would prefer. But sometimes, the signs are more subtle,” said Gina P. Angley, an audiologist and Associate Director of the Adult Hearing Aid Program at Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center. “Sometimes the problem will be noticeable only when there’s background noise, such as in a restaurant, or in other situations like not catching details during phone calls that the person would have in the past.

“Hearing loss tends to be gradual, so someone who is losing hearing might not realize how high they’ve adjusted the volume on the TV until someone else comments on how loud it is.”

Specialized care for hearing loss

If you suspect hearing loss, Vanderbilt Audiology and Hearing Aids can help.

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 ear drum from contact with a foreign object, such as cotton swabs; damage to the inner ear from illnesses or certain medications; and deteriorating hearing caused by the normal aging process.

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. Angley said the first step is test hearing.

“An assessment provides the answer,” Angley said, “to whether someone is experiencing hearing loss or if there’s some other issue.”

Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center

The Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center for Otolaryngology and Communication Sciences specializes in diseases of the ear, nose, and throat, and communication disorders including hearing, speech, language and voice problems. Vanderbilt Audiology and Hearing Aids is located at 2002 Richard Jones Rd., Suite 301C, in Nashville.

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