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Effective communication is critical for healthy relationships, participating in social activities, and managing responsibilities. We engage with others consistently throughout the day, in both our personal and professional lives. Communication is important to how we interpret and make sense of and navigate the world we are in. A major way communication can be impacted is by hearing loss. Hearing loss is a health condition that has become increasingly common. It often occurs gradually which makes it easier to overlook or ignore for a long period of time. This is particularly dangerous because it can worsen hearing loss and the numerous symptoms that people commonly experience. One of the most common symptoms is various difficulties with communication.
Hearing loss is the third most common chronic health condition among older adults. This public health epidemic impacts millions of people. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD):
- 1 in 8 people (aged 12 and older) have some degree of hearing loss in one or both ears
- An estimated 15% of adults aged 20 to 69 has some degree of hearing loss
- Nearly 29 million people could benefit from using hearing aids
- adults aged 20 to 69 with hearing loss – less than 16% use hearing aids
- adults 70 and older with hearing loss – less than 1 in 3 (30%) use hearing aids
These statistics reveal how pervasive and significantly untreated hearing loss is. This is concerning because untreated hearing loss impacts all aspects of life. One major impact is on communication which is essential to how we live our lives.
Hearing loss can be caused by a variety of factors including existing medical conditions, environmental exposure to loud noise, and genetic history. These circumstances can contribute to the disruption to the auditory system which is how we hear. A reduced ability to hear makes engaging in conversation tough. People with hearing loss often experience:
- Difficulty following entire conversation especially in environments with background noise and/or multiple people speaking simultaneously
- Tinnitus which is a buzzing or ringing noise in one or both ears
- Frequently needing others to repeat themselves, speak loudly, and/or speak slowly
- Need to move to quieter areas to have a conversation
- Difficulty hearing distinct words as sounds are muffled
People often exert extra energy to compensate for these symptoms. This additional work that communication requires can feel tasking for everyone involved; which can create unpleasant interactions. Strained communication can lead to miscommunication, fatigue, and overall discomfort. The collective toll of strained communication can cause people with hearing loss to avoid interacting with others, social gatherings, and environments with background noise. In addition to strained communication, this social withdrawal can significantly impact one’s mental and emotional health.
If left untreated, these symptoms will persist and can worsen hearing loss as well as contribute to the development of other health conditions. Additionally, ongoing strained communication can create tension and distance in relationships, impact job performance, and general well-being.
If you have noticed any changes to your hearing, it is crucial to have your hearing evaluated. Experiencing any of these symptoms is a significant sign of hearing loss. Addressing your hearing health starts with having your hearing tested by a hearing healthcare specialist. Hearing exams involve a relatively quick and noninvasive process that test your ability to hear a range of sounds and frequencies in both ears. This determines any impairment, the degree, and specific type of hearing loss that you may be experiencing. Hearing loss is most commonly treated with the use of hearing aids.
Hearing aids are electronic devices that are designed to collect and amplify sound, increasing one’s ability to hear. Much like many electronics today, hearing aids have benefitted from advanced technology and are more innovative (and smaller) than ever. The wide-range of options that are available include various features and technologies that can be customized to meet your specific hearing needs. Hearing aids today are better apt to seamlessly integrate into your life, allowing you to better navigate your life with hearing loss. Treating your hearing impairment and being able to hear significantly better can enhance communication, improve relationships, and overall health.