PUBLISHED: 1:46 PM on Wednesday, January 11, 2006
How to maximize your hearing potential
Hearing loss is one of the most common chronic conditions in the United States. It affects more than nine million Americans over the age of 65. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, it is more common in this population than cataracts, diabetes and orthopedic problems. Hearing loss affects another 10 million people aged 45 to 65. The National Council on Aging reports that a majority of those people do not use hearing aids.

Hearing loss can be caused by problems in the outer or middle ear such as impacted earwax in the ear canal, fluid, infections or growths in the middle ear, allergies and sinus problems. This type of hearing loss is called a conductive hearing loss. Seeing a physician can, in many cases, remedy the problem -- hearing then returns to near normal levels.

About 90 percent of all adult hearing problems are caused by problems in the cochlea of the inner ear and the auditory nerve.

This can be caused by heredity, the aging process, some medications and exposure to loud noise. Symptoms of this type of hearing loss include not understanding what is said, accusing others of mumbling or speaking too softly and the inability to hear in the presence of background noise. This type of hearing loss, sometimes called nerve deafness, is treated by the use of hearing instruments. Many people have the mistaken impression that nerve hearing loss cannot be helped -- this is not true. The majority of individuals who wear hearing instruments have this type of hearing loss.

Other Problems

In addition to the obvious problems associated with hearing loss, a 1999 study by the National Council on Aging states that there are other serious problems that are caused by a hearing impairment. The study found that untreated hearing loss can lead to problems such as anxiety, depression, paranoia, anger and insecurity. Those individuals in the study who wore hearing instruments reported improvements in many aspects of their lives, including family relationships, sense of independence and sex life. Additionally, close friends and family members of the hearing-impaired respondents have this type of hearing loss.

Strained family relationships are another problem seen by hearing professionals. Communication with a hearing-impaired person can be very frustrating for friends and family members. A hearing-impaired individual has to work much harder to hear than people with normal hearing. To compensate for their deficit in hearing, they use facial cues, lip-reading and guesswork to fill in the gaps in conversation.

The Earlier the Better

Early intervention is very important when hearing loss is suspected. A simple hearing test can help identify a hearing loss. That test should include a case history, ear inspection to check for wax build-up, tympanometry to check for fluid or infection in the middle ear, pure tone air and bond testing and a speech understanding test.

Instruments Improve Hearing

Hearing instruments do not give back the hearing that an individual had at 18, but they can dramatically improve the quality of life if an individual does not wait too long to get help. Many times a hearing-impaired individual does not really know how much they are missing because much of the time hearing loss is gradual.

Most experts agree that since gradual hearing loss typically occurs in both ears, it makes sense to fit both ears with hearing instruments. Amplifying both ears allows an individual to better localize sound. Additionally balanced hearing with both ears gives a hearing-impaired individual the best ability to disregard background sounds and achieve better hearing in noise.

Family and friends play a very important role in the remediation process. They should accompany the hearing-impaired family member to the test if at all possible.

Where to Seek Help

Doctors of Audiology (Au.D.) or Audiologists are the health care experts to seek out with any hearing problems. Audiologists are specifically trained to diagnose and treat hearing loss.

When beginning a hearing aid trial with your audiologist you should always seek a trial period to insure the hearing aid will improve your hearing. A competent Audiologist should be able to answer all your questions and put you in a position to improve your hearing.