By Ernst Lamothe Jr.
Hearing is one of the five senses. It is a complex process of picking up sounds, processing it and attaching it to meaning. The ability to hear is critical to understanding the world around us and connecting us to loved ones and colleagues.
Approximately 20% of Americans — around 48 million Americans of all ages — have some degree of hearing loss, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition, hearing loss occurs in five out of every 1,000 newborns each year in the United States.
“Oftentimes it takes people an average of seven years to seek treatment for hearing loss,” said Jill Bernstein, audiologist for Hearing Evaluation Services of Buffalo Inc.
Stigma surrounding aging factors into some of the neglect, according to Bernstein. People often equate a hearing check-up to aging, so they’re reluctant to seek treatment, she said.
Bernstein discusses five aspects about hearing of which people should be aware.
1. Get a hearing screening
Hearing screening is a test to tell if people might have hearing loss. The tests are both easy and painless. Audiologists suggest that you receive regular screenings to check if your hearing is normal or near normal. People could be experiencing tinnitus, which is a ringing in the ears and is a side effect of hearing loss.
“Exposure to loud noises, medications with high doses of aspirin, medications related to cancer treatments, blood pressure medication, too much wax in the ears, and diet, are the things which exposes an individual to tinnitus,” said Bernstein.
2. Early indication for child hearing loss
There is still a myth that hearing loss is an older adult problem. However, the trends are not supporting that. As many as 16% of teens aged 12 to 19 have reported some hearing loss which may be caused by loud noise, according to the CDC. In addition, hearing loss can affect a child’s ability to develop communication, language and social skills. The earlier children with hearing loss start getting services, the more likely they are to reach their full potential.
“If a child doesn’t respond to sound by shifting the focus of their eyes toward the sound, or show any indication they heard a sound, they should get checked out,” said Bernstein.
3. Noise level matters
Various people fall victim to blasting music in their ears, but young people specifically have a tendency to perform such activity for hours at a time, which can be extremely harmful to their hearing overtime. Bernstein mentioned people can listen to 85 decibels of music for six hours without any damage to their hearing. Despite 85 decibels being high enough, many young people reach higher levels than that. Anything higher than 85 decibels is damaging. Normal conversation is about 60 decibels while a lawn mower is about 90 decibles.
“Every decibel we go up by 5, we cut our safe music time in half,” said Bernstein.
She said 70-75 decibels is a comfortable, safe level to listen to music where individuals can hear the music clearly while canceling out the outside world.
For those who want an effective way to listen to music, they can invest in quality headphones with noise canceling capabilities, which doesn’t require increase volumes.
4. Hearing and health are connected.
Bernstein believes in the relationship between hearing and several other health issues.
“Any kidney disease can affect the ear because they share the same cellular structure. With high blood pressure and cholesterol, it’s all about blood flow,” she added. Bernstein said the ear has the most requirement for blood flow in the body. Because high cholesterol and blood pressure blocks blood flow, it affects the blood flow to the ear, which affects the hearing.
5. People don’t realize how far hearing technology has come.
Hearing aids are similar to earbuds, but they’re safer, clearer and more natural. In the 21st century, there have been significant advances in hearing aid manufacturers. They have made improvements by developing hearing aids that are more effective for various types of hearing loss. That includes those specifically made for high-frequency hearing loss, along with better feedback management, noise reduction, rechargeable batteries and connectivity to Bluetooth technology. They can link their hearing aids to their phones and stream hands-free phone calls, according to Bernstein.
Digital hearing aids can help convert incoming sounds so that it can be amplified to an individual’s specific needs. They also analyze the listening environment every couple of milliseconds to determine if noise reduction assistance is needed.
Bernstein describes a unique, invisible device called a Lyric, which is replaced every few months by an audiologist, and it’s pushed so deeply into the ear to create the illusion of being invisible.
“Audiology as an art and a science. The science tests an individual’s hearing to use it as the base of their hearing aid programming,” said Bernstein.