There has been a huge increase in awareness of hearing health in recent years, as well as incredible advancement in hearing aid technology. Still, there are some common misconceptions that won’t seem to go away. Hearing loss is an invisible condition that often takes years to develop. As the third most common medical condition in the US, it is important that we stay on top of the facts about hearing loss. Here are some of the most common misconceptions about hearing loss.
Myth: Hearing loss can only be developed through exposure to loud noise.
In fact, the most common cause of hearing loss is through the natural process of aging. Also called presbycusis, it is caused by a change in the structure of the ear as we age. Other factors include genetics, medications, smoking, a poor diet and diabetes. Each of these can be responsible for damaging hair cells which are tasked with sending auditory signals to your brain. As these hair cells stop working, they can’t be replaced naturally or by medical means.
Myth: Hearing loss is an old person’s condition.
Although we mentioned that aging is the most common form of hearing loss today, it doesn’t mean that younger generations are off the hook. Hearing loss can happen slowly or when you least suspect it, at any point in your life.
One of the more urgent causes is gradual hearing loss due to chronic exposure to noise. With the proliferation of smartphones in conjunction with earphone use, younger generations need to be careful to use devices responsibly to protect the hearing of their future selves.
Myth: My hearing is fine, but other people tend to mumble nowadays.
A common complaint of those who are dealing with untreated hearing loss is to ask everybody else to speak up. They claim they don’t have hearing loss because they can still hear others, but they just don’t understand them because of all the mumbling.
This argument is based on a fundamental misunderstand of how hearing loss works. Hearing doesn’t decline equally across all frequencies. The higher frequencies are the first to go. Many of the important consonant sounds are in these higher registers, so when the ability to hear those consonants is lost, it can be tough to distinguish between different words: for example, ‘cat’ vs ‘sat’. This problem is amplified in noise environments, where the dull-frequency hum of background noise appears louder than higher frequency sounds like your friend’s words.
This is why it is often difficult for those with hearing loss to hear others in noisy environments. Fortunately, the latest hearing aids can reduce background noise and increase those frequencies required to hear speech.
Myth: Hearing loss only needs to be treated when it gets really bad.
If you play the waiting game with hearing loss, it will be harder to treat. As the auditory system in your brain is used less and less, it begins to stop recognizing sound. This means hearing aids won’t help as much. Fortunately, the recent discovery of the brains’ ‘neuroplasticity’ means that treating hearing loss rehabilitates that part of the brain to relearn how to hear. The earlier you treat hearing loss, the faster your auditory system’s capabilities can be restored.
Myth: Hearing loss only affects hearing.
This is false. Untreated hearing loss can have a huge impact on your overall well-being. Many studies have linked untreated hearing loss with fatigue, depression, stress, anxiety, social isolation, decreased productivity, a decline in physical independence, and dementia.
Myth: Hearing aids are like glasses.
When you get glasses after needing them for so long, the difference is stark. With the right prescription, vision can instantly be corrected to 20/20. Unfortunately, many people still believe this to be the same with hearing aids. After all, they are both devices to improve our senses, right? The reality is disappointing for those with hearing loss to hear.
It takes on average 6 weeks for a person to begin to feel the benefits of hearing aids, and this is with daily use. Hearing is as much the brains responsibility as it is the ear, therefore the brain needs time to adjust to the sound coming through the hearing aid. It can also take a while to fit a hearing aid properly, which might necessitate regular trips to visit your hearing health provider. In the end it is still worth the time and effort, due to the multitude of benefits that hearing aid users enjoy.