Hearing Loss: It’s Everyone’s Problem

A study conducted by Frank R. Lin, MD, PhD; John K. Niparko, MD; Luigi Ferrucci, MD, PhD. and published in JAMA Internal Medicine, concluded: “We estimate that 30.0 million or 12.7% of Americans 12 years and older had bilateral hearing loss , and this estimate increases to 48.1 million or 20.3% when also including individuals with unilateral hearing loss.”

I started having a constant ringing in my ears in my early 40s. In order to hear the TV over the ringing, the TV volume had to be turned up high. So high, that my son would come storming into my room almost every evening to tell me he couldn’t hear his TV over my TV. That was the beginning.

Hearing Loss

The ringing is called tinnitus. The Mayo Clinic describes tinnitus as “a noise or ringing in the ears. A common problem, tinnitus affects about 1 in 5 people. Tinnitus isn’t a condition itself – it’s a symptom of an underlying condition, such as age-related hearing loss, ear injury or a circulatory system disorder.”

When I mentioned it to my physician, I was told it would probably go away on its own. It didn’t.

Several years later, the TV and radio even louder, and in a cube environment at my job, I noticed I couldn’t hear anyone who was trying to speak quietly. Whispers were impossible. My frustration was growing, but not until I went to a Christmas party at my sister’s house did my hearing take a complete nose-dive. I went from the car where my radio was blasting the news, which I could hear, to a house full of people whose mouths were moving but no sound was coming out. I could hear muffled words, like when you are under water. I could hear sounds, like glasses clinking, and kids happy screaming. I could not hear any words.

Hearing Loss

The following week, I had regained some, but not all of my impaired hearing. I made an appointment to see an audiologist. She tested me and confirmed my fears. I had hearing loss.

Hearing impaired people can become depressed and isolated. It’s difficult to go to a restaurant, or any loud, crowded environment. Shopping malls are obnoxious to me. I can usually only talk to one person at a time, and I need to see their lips, even with hearing aids. (I pray they have good diction.) The phone is my very worst thing. Land lines and cell phones alike, connections are often poor and leave me apologizing for my deafness, which irritates me.

My hearing loss was a strain on my whole family. The worst was when my son called me from Iraq, with a 5-second delay on a satellite phone; I couldn’t understand anything he was saying. I kept asking him, “Are you okay? Are you okay?” It was a nightmare. We opted for texting and emails when he had access to a computer, after that horrible experience.

If you know someone with hearing loss, encourage them to be fit for hearing aids and help them hear you by following these basic guidelines.

  • Speak clearly, but don’t yell.
  • Face the person to whom you are speaking. Don’t cover your mouth.
  • If they say “what?” repeat without getting mad, and try to use different words to say the same thing.
  • Don’t give up and walk away, that is extremely hurtful.
  • Don’t speak to them when they are washing the dishes or watching TV.
  • Remember, the hearing-impaired person is not stupid, they just can’t hear you.