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February CONSULT

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How to properly monitor - and navigate - common hearing loss

Published on Monday, February 1, 2021

By: Ruth Cummins

When several friends or family members are talking at the same time, you have a hard time following their conversation.

Your significant other wants to hide the television remote control to keep you from ramping up the sound.

You miss calls on your cell phone because you never heard it ring – and it wasn’t on silent.

Life can throw you clues that you may be experiencing hearing loss brought on by age or environmental factors, but experts at the University of Mississippi Medical Center say there are steps you can take to monitor what could be the first signs of change.

Sarah Faucette

About two-thirds of adults older than 70 have some form of hearing loss, said Dr. Sarah Faucette, an assistant professor of otolaryngology and head and neck surgery at UMMC.

“Just like in other systems in our body, things wear down a little bit, and hearing and the auditory system goes right along with that,” said Faucette, an audiologist who specializes in hearing loss and cognitive decline. “For most people, it happens so gradually that they don’t always notice.”

Often, the first indication a person has of their own hearing loss is family and friends telling them so.

“People around us notice it before we do,” Faucette said.

Those who are experiencing progressive hearing loss often have to ask people to repeat what they have said, or find themselves acknowledging that it’s harder to hear than it used to be, Faucette said. For some people, it takes time to admit they can’t hear well.

It takes average people about seven years from the time they think they have a hearing loss until the time they seek treatment, according to the Hearing Loss Association of America.

Other clues include:

  • You’re tired from straining to hear or follow conversations, especially in noisy environments.
    “That’s one of the first things people with hearing loss complain about: They’re struggling more to hear in a noisy situation,” Faucette said. “A small hearing loss doesn’t usually affect face-to-face conversation, but it’s going to be more apparent if it’s noisier.”
  • People don’t seem to speak clearly or you misunderstand what they say. Speech and other sounds seem muffled and you get annoyed or frustrated during a conversation because you can’t hear what’s being said.
    “It’s easy to place the blame on the speaker,” Faucette said. “Someone who has suffered hearing loss might say, ‘I can hear you, but you’re mumbling.’ For that person, everything might sound a little garbled. Some speech sounds are missing, and some are there.”
  • You have difficulty hearing high-pitched sounds, for example, birds, a doorbell or an alarm clock. Or you have trouble distinguishing speech consonants, such as the difference between the “S” sound and the “F” sound, or between the “sh“ sound and the “th” sound in speech.

“Most of the time, the way hearing loss works, especially if it’s age-related, is that you lose high-frequency sounds, or they’re reduced,” Faucette said. “Parts of speech will fall in that range, but not all of it. People might hear, but they might not understand it because they aren’t getting all of the speech sounds.”

If you notice you’ve had hearing loss – or accept that you have, based on what friends and family are observing – Faucette recommends getting tested by an audiologist.

“Your insurance coverage might determine your pathway, but the goal would be for you to see an audiologist with a title and credentials,” Faucette said. “They are trained in evaluating and treating hearing loss. I get concerned when people don’t know what an audiologist does or that people might have to worry about the integrity of what someone (other than an audiologist) is telling them.

“An audiologist is trained on when to be concerned about hearing loss being a medical problem versus an auditory one. They can figure out what is happening and are equipped to make a referral to a physician, if needed.”

In some cases, an audiologist will recommend a patient wear a hearing aid – but today’s devices are not what your Aunt Minnie wore back in the day.

“Hearing aids have come so far in the last 10 to 20 years,” Faucette said. “The technology has really advanced. People think hearing aids are these big things that sit behind your ear and that they’re beige and ugly. They’re so discreet now.”

Some people don’t want their hearing tested for fear they’ll have to “wear big technology in their ears,” Faucette said.

“They need to know that the sound quality is better. Devices are fine-tuned to the hearing loss of the wearer, rather than volume up and volume down.”

Patients with mild hearing loss might not need a device, but instead may receive counseling on how to improve their hearing based on their situation, Faucette said.

“Is their challenge the sound on their TV? Listening to conversations? There are devices you can use to amplify phones or televisions that are not hearing aids.”

Depending on the type and severity of hearing loss, Faucette said your caregiver can work with you to find solutions so that you can hear your very best.

“That’s why it’s handy to see an audiologist,” she said. “See what they advise.”

To schedule an appointment with an audiologist at UMMC Ear, Nose and Throat, call (601) 984-5160.

The above article appears in CONSULT, UMMC’s monthly e-newsletter sharing news about cutting-edge clinical and health science education advances and innovative biomedical research at the Medical Center and giving you tips and suggestions on how you and the people you love can live a healthier life. Click here and enter your email address to receive CONSULT free of charge. You may cancel at any time.