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Each May, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) hosts Better Speech and Hearing Month. This year, the theme of Connecting People furthers their overarching goal of connecting folks living with communication disorders, and their friends and families, to the intervention and support resources they need.
How many people live with hearing loss
More than 30 million Americans over the age of 12 show hearing loss in both ears, according to statistics from the National Institutes of Health. The percentage of people living with undiagnosed hearing loss skews largely toward older demographics, as the greatest predictor of hearing loss continues to be age.
Causes of hearing loss
Age-related hearing loss occurs as a result of the natural aging process. Over time, the important inner ear cells decay or become damaged. These cells are integral to the hearing process, as they receive noise and transform it into sound information. Then, by way of the auditory nerve, this sound information is transmitted to the brain. Our brain’s processing centers make meaning of this sound, translating it into music, language and other information from the external world.
Exposure to excessive noise can have a similar damaging effect on the inner ear cells. We refer to this type of hearing loss as noise-induced. It can happen with violent volumes in one episode, like an explosion or accident, or slowly and over time with repeated exposure, like wearing earbuds constantly at maximum volume or working for decades in a too-loud environment.
Symptoms of early hearing loss
Because of the way hearing loss typically first appears, many people aren’t even aware that their hearing has changed! It tends to show up in trouble with speech clarity, so that it sounds like everyone around you is mumbling their words. You might be asking people to repeat themselves more often. It can also impact the way you hear in a crowded or noisy environment, so that you have trouble discerning speech when there’s a lot of background noise present.
Barriers to treatment
While true barriers to hearing loss solutions exist, and cost is one of those that many people cite, some of the obstacles to treating hearing loss can be overcome through education. Hearing loss happens to many people, sometimes regardless of age. Still, there is a residue of aging stigma attached to the condition and some people feel shame acknowledging their hearing loss.
It’s true that some noise-induced hearing loss could be avoided with hearing protection or proactive listening habits, hearing loss is a very natural occurrence. And yet, people wait an average of ten years before seeking a diagnosis and treatment. They may believe that hearing loss is a part of aging they must accept. Another obstacle might be our widespread cultural attitude towards hearing health. While a majority of people will acknowledge that healthy hearing is a vital aspect of overall health, only 20 percent of respondents in a 2021 survey had undergone a hearing test within the past five years. That is in comparison to the 60 percent who’d had their vision tested.
This is why ASHA’s Better Speech and Hearing Month is so important, educating people about the prevalence of hearing loss and the availability of treatment. No one deserves to live with untreated hearing loss and they don’t have to. Even cost as an obstacle can be overcome by investigating the federal and state assistance available to people with hearing loss.
Why proven, successful intervention matters
Treating hearing loss does more than restore your ability to understand dialogue in your favorite television show, it can improve your quality of life. The ability to communicate with your friends and family without frustration and fatigue improves your sense of connected-ness to the world. Relationships are strengthened, lowering the burden of depression and a sense of isolation.
What’s more, research supports that choosing to intervene in hearing loss can decrease the risk of future cognitive disorders, like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
Schedule a hearing consultation today
If you or a loved one is dealing with hearing loss, schedule a hearing consultation with our highly trained team. We’ll lead you through the simple process of a hearing exam. From there, we’ll walk you through your diagnosis and work together to find solutions that suit your unique needs.