Is it time to seek help for your hearing?

Do you feel that you can hear people, but don’t understand? Do you have difficulty following conversations in groups, on the telephone, at work or with family members? Do you find yourself withdrawing from social events and avoiding the things you love to do? These are all signs that your hearing may be affecting your lifestyle and communication abilities.

The first step to identifying hearing loss is taking a hearing test (audiogram) with an audiologist. An audiologist is trained in the science of hearing and can determine not only if you have a hearing decline, but also identify the type of hearing loss you have. If medical intervention is needed, a referral will be given.

The most common cause of hearing loss is damage to hair cells inside the inner ear in the cochlea. These hair cells are amplifiers for soft sounds, so the first thing we notice is difficulty understanding soft speech. We hear loud sounds, like traffic, lawnmowers, dogs barking, loud voices etc., but not the softer sounds, like birds chirping, our grandchildren, conversations in restaurants, the timer on the microwave, clocks ticking, etc. The sounds that are often the hardest to detect are the consonants sounds in the higher frequencies, such as the s, f, th, t, k, sh and ch. These sounds contribute to the clarity of speech. We can be aware people are talking, but we miss beginnings and endings of words that give us the meaning of what is being said. Age is the most common cause of damaged hair cells, but also excessive noise exposure, viruses and medications, such as chemotherapy drugs, can also be a cause. Unfortunately, at this time, humans cannot grow more hair cells, but research continues in this area.

Following the hearing evaluation, the results are discussed. The audiogram is an important part, but the evaluation of the impact your hearing is having on your quality of life, the degree of communication difficulties, challenges in your daily environments and avoidance of social activities must also be included in the discussion about whether it is time to move forward and seek solutions.

After the listening assessment, your hearing care provider will discuss the benefits of hearing devices and their ability to help your individual needs. Hearing is a system of two ears and the brain. Listening is where we say the brain meets the ears. It is our ears that detect the sound, but the brain must make sense of it. Our brain looks at sound differences between the ears to determine where sounds are coming from. Our brains must recognize the sounds while our memory makes sense of them. The brain also needs to focus on what is important, especially in noisy environments, and then separate relevant sounds from the competing background noise—all of these things are happening simultaneously! When we have untreated hearing loss and a loss of auditory input, our brains must work harder, and by the end of the day, this can be exhausting! Recent studies have also linked untreated hearing loss to a more rapid rate of cognitive decline and an increased risk of falls.

Hearing devices today are very sophisticated digital chips that are customized by the hearing care provider to fit not only your personal audiometric data, but your lifestyle and listening preferences. Devices can scan an environment 100 times per second to analyze speech and noise and focus on making sure the speech signal is maintained and audible, even in the presence of noise. That is the goal of hearing devices and sophisticated hearing technology today. We don’t need everything to be louder, we need to hear the important speech details, so the clarity and understanding is restored and the ease of listening is improved. This contributes to overall improved physical, emotional, mental and social health.

The first step is to schedule your hearing evaluation. Medicare pays for an annual wellness hearing check. As adults, it’s always important that we have a hearing baseline so any changes can be detected and monitored.

Christine has been a licensed audiologist since 1999 and holds a B.S. in Business Administration, M.S. in Communication Disorders and Sciences (Audiology) and a Certificate of Clinical Competence in Audiology (CCC-A) from the American Speech-Language Hearing Association. A member of the American Academy of Audiology, she is the owner of Conejo Hearing Center, located at 5655 Lindero Canyon Road, Suite 506 in Westlake Village. For more information, call 818.991.3800 or visit ConejoHearingCenter.com.