Are you struggling with hearing loss?

Affecting 48 million people in the U.S., hearing loss crosses the racial and cultural divide.

Raynard Castle began noticing he was experiencing hearing loss but was afraid to admit it. During conversations, he would miss hearing certain words, sometimes even entire sentences. Watching TV or listening to the radio became a chore at times. “Everything sounded muffled, it got to the point where I just began shutting down emotionally,” says Raynard.

Raynard, a 62-year-old Houston resident is a music aficionado. He had always prided himself on being able to hear the different nuances of a quality recording but now he can no longer do so. Finally, Raynard’s wife, Betty, grew tired of having to repeat herself during conversations with him. She found herself continuously raising her voice so that Raynard could understand what she was saying. According to Betty, “I’d be yelling my words so that Raynard could hear me and when we were out in public, it was pretty embarrassing.”

Finally, Raynard decided to face his fear and have his hearing checked. The recently retired postal worker is glad he took his wife’s advice. “I am so glad I finally kicked my foolishness to the curb and decided to have something done about my hearing loss. Betty was so right but I was too stubborn to listen. Now, with my new hearing aid, things no longer sound muffled. Wow, what a wonderful difference it has made in my life,” Raynard enthuses.

According to medical experts, hearing loss does not discriminate. Affecting 48 million people in the U.S., hearing loss crosses the racial and cultural divide. Men are more likely than women to suffer from the condition. Adults age 65-74 years old are 18 times more likely to have hearing loss than younger adults age 18-44.

“We all know someone affected by hearing loss.  But what’s more troubling is the person with hearing loss isn’t the only one affected. Family and friends are troubled as well, often expressing frustration when communicating with a loved one. For the person with hearing loss, this can lead to depression, isolation, and some studies suggest a potential link to increased rates of dementia,” says Dr. Ben Oberman, an otolaryngologist based in Durham, N.C. who specializes in the treatment of ear, nose and throat conditions of adults and children.

Hearing loss can be significant and sudden, or subtle. It is important to fully understand what the indicators are as they’re commonly discreet and difficult to notice. Here are some signs that you might be losing your hearing:

  • Ringing or buzzing in your ear
  • Difficulty following conversations
  • Speech and other sounds are muffled
  • Difficulty hearing in noisy situations like in restaurants or malls
  • A need to have the volume turned up high on your TV or radio
  • Responding inappropriately in conversations
  • Reading lips intently when you are spoken to
  • Being told you have a hearing problem

Hearing loss is described by varying degrees, not percentages. Hearing loss may be mild, moderate, moderately-severe, severe, or profound, and it can vary across pitches. What are some hearing loss causes?

  • Inner ear damage—aging and loud noises may cause stress on the nerve cells in the cochlea that sends signals to the brain.
  • Earwax buildup—can block the ear canal and prevent the conduction of sound waves. The problem of too much wax buildup can be solved with its removal.
  • Ruptured eardrum—loud noises, sudden changes in pressure, poking your eardrum with a sharp object, and an infection can cause a rupture
  • Ear infection and abnormal bone growths or tumors—in the outer or middle ear, any of these can cause loss
  • Some illnesses—illnesses that can cause a high fever like meningitis may damage the cochlea; diabetes, heart, mumps, thyroid or circulation problems can contribute to loss
  • Medications—some chemotherapy drugs can damage the middle ear and so can high doses of aspirin, pain relievers and antimalarial meds
  • Family history–Genetic factors also make some people more susceptible to hearing loss than others.
  • Head trauma—a blow to the head or an injury can cause a deficit in hearing

There are various testing methods used to diagnose a hearing deficit:

  • Doctor’s exam—A physician will look into your ear to see if wax buildup is a culprit or inflammation from an infection. He may also order diagnostic testing like a CAT scan to look for structural causes.
  • Tuning fork tests—these metal instruments that are two-pronged produce a sound when they are struck; the test will assess if whether hearing loss is caused by damage to the vibrating parts of your middle ear (including your eardrum), damage to sensors or nerves of your inner ear, or damage to both
  • Audiogram test— An audiogram is a graph that shows the softest sounds a person can hear at different frequencies. The test represents sound volume or intensity, which is measured in decibels (dB). A hearing threshold of between 0 and 25 dB is considered normal.

If you are experiencing hearing loss take some comfort in knowing that the medical condition is well understood and there are many treatment options that you can discuss with your physician such as:

  • Ear wax removal—a physician can remove ear wax by flushing then scooping or suctioning it out
  • Surgery—might be required if there is traumatic injury to the ear or repeated infections
  • Hearing aids—can amplify sound and direct it to your inner ear canal, they are widely available in a range of styles, colors, sizes, technology levels and price points and they should be properly fitted
  • Cochlear implant— an electronic device that is implanted into the inner ear and is used to restore hearing in patients who have severe to profound hearing loss; an implant does not restore or create normal hearing. Instead, it can give a deaf person a useful auditory understanding of the environment and help him or her to understand speech

For More Information on Hearing Loss:

National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders
National Institutes of Health
800-241-1055 (TTY)

Hearing Loss Association of America
6116 Executive Blvd., Ste. 320
Rockville, Maryland 20852
301-657-2249 (TTY)

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association
2200 Research Blvd.
Rockville, Maryland 20850
301-296-5650 (TTY)