An episode of Dragon’s Den on CBC introduced a young inventor who was offering a ringtone that only the young could hear. He demonstrated that the Dragons’ hearing was not up to the task. His tagline, “Ringtones adults can’t hear!” told the story. But were the Dragons too far beyond their teen years, or was it hearing loss?
No one could blame the show’s panel because hearing loss is rather prevalent, affecting about 20 per cent of people aged 40 to 69, and double that for over 70 years.
Hearing loss tends to be gradual and we can often miss the changes. Hearing can be reduced by aging, long-term exposure to noise, injury or congenital disorder. It usually starts by losing the ability to hear high-frequency sounds. Early recognition of hearing loss and treatment can reduce some of its adverse results.
Some signs that your hearing is compromised include speaking louder than necessary, constantly asking for words to be repeated, misunderstanding conversations (especially in noisy situations) or turning up the volume of the TV or radio. A person might favour one ear or think others are always mumbling. As hearing loss progresses, people may even start to withdraw from social contact.
Hearing loss can be categorized into two types, or a combination of them. Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when the inner ear, auditory nerve or brain no longer detects sound waves normally. Some causes of sensorineural hearing loss include aging, excessive exposure to loud noise, infections and heredity.
Conductive hearing loss is when the outer or middle ear cannot bring sound to the inner ear. This may be the result of infection of the ear canal or middle ear, fluid in the middle ear, perforation or scarring of the eardrum, wax build-up, or dislocation of the ossicles (three middle-ear bones).
So is losing some of your hearing such a big deal? Isn’t it just another factor in getting older? We tend to view hearing loss as rather inconsequential. Studies tell us a different story, linking hearing impairment to significant physical, social and psychological consequences including isolation, loneliness, depression, falls and other accidents and an increased mortality rate. It can also take a toll on relationships.
A large study reported in 2015 found that people with hearing loss had lower levels of cognitive function compared to those without hearing loss. One theory is that hearing loss compromises cognitive processes such as our working memory because our ability to hear clearly, forces us to use so much extra effort. Other research suggests that wearing a hearing aid benefits beyond just hearing better, including improving social interactions and reduced depression. In fact, the 2015 study also showed that those with hearing loss who wore hearing aids had less cognitive decline over the years.
If you think you have hearing loss, get tested. Start with a visit to your doctor who may do a simple screening and may follow up with a referral to a specialist. Your doctor can also determine if there is any underlying cause for your hearing loss such as a chronic disease that affects blood supply. Some medications can also affect hearing, or it may even be as simple as buildup of ear wax.
There are ample online resources to get more information. Two good sources are the Canadian Hearing Society
, and hear-it.org
which offers an online hearing test that might trigger follow-up with a visit to the doctor.
The earlier hearing loss can be diagnosed and addressed, the better the long-term results.
Written by Dr. Paul Martiquet, Medical Health Officer for the Sunshine Coast and Powell River.