If you have hearing loss, you might feel like you’re suffering in silence – but you are not alone. In fact, the latest statistics available show that over 10% of people in the United States report difficulty hearing. So at this very moment, more than 32 million Americans struggle to hear properly. As the Baby Boomer generation continues to age, that number promises to increase dramatically.
To better understand the impact of hearing loss on Americans, consider the following statistics reported by Sergei Kochkin, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Better Hearing Institute:
- 3 in 10 people over the age of 60 suffer from hearing loss.
- 1 in 6 Baby Boomers (or 14.6%) have a hearing problem.
- 1 in 14 Generation Xers (or 7.4%) already suffer from hearing loss.
- At least 1.4 million children (age 18 or younger) have hearing problems.
- It is estimated that 3 in 1,000 infants are born with serious to profound hearing loss.
In addition, studies have linked untreated hearing loss to emotional, physical, mental, psychological, and even economic disadvantages. To make matters worse, there are many myths surrounding hearing issues that prevent those afflicted from seeking out a treatment.
Hearing Loss at Any Age
One of the most common myths surrounding hearing loss is that only “old people” deal with it. Impaired hearing is not strictly an ailment of old age. It can strike at any time and affects people of all ages, even children. In fact, the majority of people with impaired hearing (65%) are younger than age 65. According to the Better Hearing Institute, six million Americans between the ages of 18 and 44 live with hearing loss (source). Even a mild or moderate case of hearing loss can hinder a child’s ability to learn, develop speech, and build important interpersonal skills that can foster self-esteem and help a child succeed in school and in life. So if you notice that your child is struggling to hear properly, contact an audiologist right away.
Causes of Hearing Loss
Although “exposure to noise” is the number one cause of hearing loss, several other factors can adversely affect your hearing health:
- Exposure to noise
- A family history of hearing loss
- The aging process
- Head trauma
Types of Hearing Loss
Several different types of hearing loss exist, and not all of them can be corrected with digital hearing aids or other listening devices. Once your audiologist determines which type of hearing loss you suffer from, he or she can recommend a treatment. There are four types of hearing loss:
- Conductive: Conductive hearing loss occurs when a problem prevents the conduction of sound waves somewhere in the middle ear, eardrum, or outer ear. It can be caused by something as simple as ear wax buildup.
- Sensorineural: Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when (1) the tiny hairs in the cochlea become damaged or go missing or (2) the neural pathways that lead from the inner ear to the brain become damaged.
- Mixed: Mixed hearing loss is a combination of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss.
- Central: Central hearing loss is caused by problems in the central nervous system. For example, strokes and central nerve diseases can induce this rare form of hearing loss.
Consequences of Untreated Hearing Loss
Since hearing loss often occurs gradually, many people adapt to it and fail to realize how significantly their hearing has changed over time. You may not notice your hearing loss for months, or even years, after it begins! Plus, some people who are aware that their hearing has deteriorated are reluctant to seek help. They may feel embarrassed by what they see as a weakness, or they may believe that they can “get by” without a hearing aid or another form of treatment. Finally, some people simply don’t want to acknowledge that the problem exists. Unfortunately, for these reasons and others, many people wait years (or even decades) to contact an audiologist and find a treatment that works.
Time and time again, research has demonstrated the considerable negative effects of untreated hearing loss. The far-reaching implications go well beyond hearing. It can also influence your social, psychological, cognitive, and physical health. In fact, people who have difficulty hearing can experience such distorted and incomplete communication that it seriously impacts their professional and personal lives, at times leading to isolation and withdrawal. Studies have linked hearing loss to all of the following:
- Irritability, negativism, and anger
- Tension and stress
- Avoidance or withdrawal from social situations
- Social rejection and loneliness
- Impaired memory
- Reduced ability to learn new skills
- Poor job performance and reduced earning power
- Diminished psychological and overall health
- Reduced alertness
- Increased risk to personal safety
Furthermore, a growing collection of detailed studies demonstrate that people with hearing loss better address their limitation when they act quickly. In other words, when your family tells you to turn down the volume on the TV or you find yourself constantly asking people to speak louder, recognize your symptoms and take action! Schedule a hearing test with an audiologist, determine what sort of hearing loss you suffer from, and find a treatment that works for you.