Hearing loss is common in older age. It affects one in three people ages 65 or older, and two out of three people ages 75 or older. The condition leaves people struggling to keep up with conversations or simply hear the phone or TV, which can lead to serious problems. “Hearing loss can make a person less likely to engage with friends and family, which can be associated with depression,” says Dr. David Jung, an otologist (ear specialist) with Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary.
People put off getting their hearing checked for a variety of reasons. Understanding the realities of your concerns will help you make a better decision about whether you should seek help. Among the most common excuses:
“My hearing isn’t that bad.” You might feel it’s not your hearing that’s to blame for missing conversations, and that other people are aren’t speaking clearly. “That’s a very common complaint. The husband says he’s fine, and the wife says he can’t hear her,” says Dr. Jung. Another clue: your partner complains you keep the TV volume too loud.
“I don’t want a hearing aid.” Getting your hearing checked doesn’t mean you’ll need a hearing aid. An underlying condition may be causing hearing loss, such as fluid in the ear from a cold, or earwax buildup, or—in rare cases—a tumor. “Sometimes people have had hearing loss for months, and it’s just wax buildup. You clean it out and they’re fine,” says Dr. Jung.
“Hearing aids don’t work.” Hearing aids amplify sound, but they don’t make the sound clearer. “People tell me they have friends who didn’t have luck with a hearing aid, but maybe the friend had trouble understanding words, not detecting sounds. We can test for that,” says Dr. Jung.
“Hearing aids are ugly and make you look old.” Today’s hearing aids are smaller than the ones worn by your parents, and they are available in many different styles, such as in-the-ear and over-the-ear. “They’re a lot less noticeable than they used to be,” says Dr. Jung.
What you should do
It’s easy to overlook evidence that you have hearing loss. The symptoms can be subtle. Perhaps people around you always seem to be mumbling. Perhaps you have a hard time carrying on a conversation in a noisy environment.
If you recognize these symptoms, talk to your primary care doctor. He or she may order a hearing test directly or refer you to an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat specialist).
A visit will likely involve an ear exam, an evaluation of your medical history and how it may be affecting your hearing, and a hearing test by an audiologist. Your team will determine if a hearing aid will help you.
If you can hear the sound of a voice well but have trouble distinguishing the words being spoken, first try some simple tricks. Stand closer to people when they talk. Talk in well-lighted areas so you can see the face of the person you’re talking with. Sit closer to a stage if you’re at a performance.
Call us today with questions about your hearing health!