5 misconceptions about hearing loss

Hearing loss does not only affect the elderly or those born with a hearing defect.
Hearing loss does not only affect the elderly or those born with a hearing defect.

Hearing loss is something we tend to associate with ageing or serious, genetic disorders of the ear — you either become deaf as you grow older, or you are born deaf — and there is simply nothing in-between.

This and other misconceptions cause us to take healthy hearing for granted and not take proper care of our hearing. Here are some common myths:

1. If glasses can fully compensate for any visual problem, a hearing aid should be able to do the same for my hearing

The correct lenses may be able to give you 20/20 vision, but unfortunately it's not the same with hearing aids and hearing. The brain needs to adjust to the quality of sound coming through the hearing aid. And while hearing aids can make a tremendous difference, the sound quality will not be the same as you were used to before you experienced hearing loss.

According to the Hearing Health Foundation, each person’s audiogram (a graph showing how sound is processed, ranging from the softest to the loudest sound) is vastly different, and therefore all hearing aids need to be programmed to suit the individual.

However, don’t let this stop you from getting a hearing aid. It does make a significant difference.

2. Hearing loss isn’t so bad — it doesn’t affect the rest of my body

Even though it isn't life-threatening in any way, hearing loss can have a far-reaching impact on your well-being. According to Better Hearing, studies have shown that untreated hearing loss can lead to fatigue, stress, anxiety, depression, isolation, impaired concentration and productivity, and general deterioration of psychological and physical health.

It’s therefore important to take early steps to prevent hearing loss, acknowledge when you start having problems and seek help and treatment as soon as possible.

3. Hearing loss only affects the elderly

Hearing loss can happen gradually or suddenly at any stage of your life. While age-related hearing loss (presbycusis), caused by a change in the structure of the ear as we age, is one of the most common kinds of hearing loss, there are many other causes of hearing loss unrelated to age. One may suffer sudden hearing loss because of disease, or gradual hearing loss as a result of constant noise exposure.

The verdict? You are never too young to start taking care of your hearing or to get treatment for hearing loss. There is no stigma attached to wearing a hearing aid.

4. If I had 'real' hearing loss, I would have noticed it by now

Not true. Hearing loss can develop over an extended period of time and you might not even be aware that your hearing is deteriorating. Your general practitioner will also not pick up any changes to your hearing unless you are very specific about this concern. In America only 14% of doctors routinely screen for hearing, and in South Africa, you would need to see a specialist to know whether you are experiencing any real difference in your hearing.

A previous Health24 article explains how gradual hearing loss can occur. Here are some of the first signs of hearing loss:

  • Difficulty hearing people clearly the first time and asking them to repeat what they said, especially in noisy areas
  • Constantly having to turn up the volume of your music or television set
  • Having to concentrate hard while listening to someone
  • Difficulty hearing people over the phone

There are also some factors that might make you more susceptible to hearing loss than your peers. This may include severe noise exposure in your daily work situation, regularly listening to loud music through head- or earphones, regularly suffering from ear infections, a family history of hearing loss, or compromising your nervous system through unhealthy habits such as smoking.

5. I will look 'disabled' if I wear a hearing aid — I don’t need it

According the Hearing Health Foundation, insignificant hearing loss (only in one ear, not enough to be noticed etc.) can easily be dismissed but can still have an impact on cognitive skills such as driving, doing your job, talking to someone in a crowded location, or over the phone.

Hearing aids are not only for those who have severe hearing loss, but can also make a difference to those who are experiencing gradual hearing loss. If wearing a hearing aid can restore your quality of life and help you perform your daily tasks, there should be no stigma attached. Hearing aids are becoming visually more attractive and and many can fit into the ear canal where they are hardly visible.

Image credit: iStock

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