By Thomas Tedeschi, AuD
Vice President, Franchise Development
It usually starts with the small things. You may not notice them, but chances are people around you do. The TV volume is just a few notches louder than usual. The coworker two cubicles down calls your name, and you miss it. Your cell phone shows missed calls even though the ringer's on. The alarm doesn't wake you, but it woke your spouse.
At some point, someone -- a friend, a family member, maybe even a coworker or your boss -- might point out that you may need to get your hearing checked. If you've found yourself in that situation, or maybe you've even started to notice the symptoms yourself, don't fret. You're not alone, and there are solutions available.
Hearing loss is faced by 37 million Americans and reaches across demographic lines, such as age, race, and gender. While the diminishment of a key sense clearly creates physical limitations, hearing loss can also exact an emotional toll. Frustration, depression, anger -- all of these feelings and more are common responses to hearing loss. There’s no simple path in hearing loss, but learning about and recognizing the signs and symptoms opens the door to a wide range of treatment options. Taking the first steps toward proper treatment is one of the smartest, most straightforward things you can do to affect your quality of life.
When we were teens or young adults, there’s a good chance that many of us walked out of a club or concert and found the world to be a little muffled by the time we got home, as if our ears were suddenly packed with a wall of mud. Then we went to bed, woke up in the morning, and went about the next day with hearing back to normal.
The primary, and most obvious, symptom of hearing loss is just that: the loss of clear hearing. In general, this symptom comes across as a muffled feeling, similar to the sensation of trying to listen to TV while wearing earplugs. When hearing loss occurs sharply and suddenly, such as in the concert example above (which would be a temporary threshold shift due to the trauma of the intensity of the sound), it’s easy to distinguish -- you suddenly can’t hear well. For many people dealing with chronic hearing loss, this muffling occurs gradually over months or years, such that the change is often too subtle to notice in day-to-day life.
Next to muffled hearing, tinnitus (a persistent ringing, buzzing, or whining sound in the ears) is one of the most common symptoms of hearing loss. Tinnitus can vary in length, frequency, intensity, and even tone, with some people experiencing a high-pitched tone and others experiencing buzzing, whooshing, clicking, or chirping. Many different factors can cause tinnitus, from loud-level trauma to infection.
Another symptom of hearing loss can be vertigo (dizziness). The vestibular system, which controls balance, is also housed in the inner ear, and diseases such as Meniere’s disease not only affect hearing ability, but also impair the balance system.
In addition, there are a number of diseases and illnesses that can cause hearing loss, including measles, meningitis, and mumps.
Physical symptoms are one thing, but studies have shown that hearing loss can have an emotional impact as well. Perhaps you’ve gradually felt like you’re avoiding friends and family because of their frustration when you can’t understand what they say. Or maybe you’ve begun declining invitations to go to restaurants or public places because you’ve developed a more difficult time keeping track of what’s being said. If you find yourself withdrawing socially, becoming frustrated with the simple act of conversation, or feeling like talking leads to misunderstanding -- in addition to having the physical symptoms, however slight, listed above -- it’s a good idea to get your hearing checked.
In addition to inhibiting social interactions, hearing loss can indirectly create stress in your life by affecting your work, relationships, or finances. If you have hearing loss, communication can become difficult, leading to mixed messages and missed details. Hearing loss can also take a toll on personal relationships, and, in worst-case scenarios, a vicious cycle is created where people on both sides feel misunderstood and frustrated, all while potentially overlooking a medical root cause.
The thought of approaching potentially difficult situations may leave you feeling anxious, frustrated, angry, or depressed. When compounded by the interpersonal strain resulting from miscommunication in various relationships, it becomes clear that hearing loss can create an emotional fallout that ripples negatively through many aspects of your life.
The goal, then, is to recognize the emotional and physical symptoms of hearing loss and move forward with appropriate diagnosis and treatment.
What Comes Next
At Sonus, we always advise patients to take advantage of the many resources available online to research possible conditions underlying their symptoms. Following this advice will help you engage in an informed dialogue with your audiologist and arm you with the appropriate questions to ask to help expedite the most accurate possible diagnosis and facilitate the best rehabilitative strategy.
Millions of people suffer from hearing loss, and a significant number can experience improvement and assistance through modern medicine and technology. With a thorough examination and diagnosis, the nature of your hearing loss symptoms will be clear, as will the options for treatment and moving forward.
Dr. Tedeschi, who has over 30 years of experience in the hearing healthcare field, has been vice president of franchise development at Sonus since September 2009.