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Seven Common Hearing Loss Myths

Kari Mobley, AuD, ACMC-Willmar, Audiology

Just because you have to turn up the volume or ask people to repeat themselves doesn't mean you have hearing loss, does it? After all, hearing loss only happens in the elderly not among younger generations, right?

That's where you may be wrong. Hearing loss can occur in any stage of life—even in childhood and young adulthood. And it's often times a product of your own making. In fact only 35 percent of people with hearing loss are older than age 64. Hearing loss affects all age groups. Noise exposure through lifestyle choices (remember that loud concert you insisted on sitting by the speakers last year? Or the multiple hunting expeditions in the last few years?), occupational hazards, diabetes, smoking and decreased health can all lead to hearing loss.

Consider these hearing loss myths:

MYTH: Being hard of hearing means it's hard to hear everything equally.

FACT: Most people experience hearing loss that is worse in some pitches than others. Rarely do I see a patient who has hearing loss that is equal across the different pitches. Think of a piano, as you go up the keyboard, the tone gets softer as the pitch gets higher. The most common type of hearing loss is a high-frequency, or high pitch, sensorineural loss (nerve loss). This is why it is so frustrating for people because they can hear and not hear at the same time. They can hear the car coming up the driveway or the tick of the clock, but they can't hear timers go off, a cat meow or the birds sing. Often with this type of hearing loss, you can hear people talking, but won't understand the words.

MYTH: If I had a hearing loss, my family doctor would have told me.

FACT: There are a number of doctors who will refer patients who have hearing problems to a specialist; however, the fact is even people with hearing impairments hear well in quiet environments like a doctor's office, which means it can be difficult for your doctor to even realize you have a hearing problem or to understand the extent of your hearing problem.

MYTH: Hearing aids won't help me hear in background noise.

Fact: When a person starts to lose their hearing, they not only have trouble hearing but they have trouble picking out the voice they want to listen to. The ear's filtering ability is reduced. Background noise is just hearing anything you don't want to hear. Hearing aids today are better at reducing mechanical noise, traffic noise and room reverberation. The hearing aid is limited; it doesn't know who you want to listen to in a crowd of people talking. How can it know which voice you want to hear? It will make all speech louder. Directional microphones are available in most new hearing aids to help point the microphone toward the speaker you want to listen to. This is helping more people function better in background noise then ever before.

MYTH: I don't need to have two hearing aids.

FACT: If hearing is down in both ears, people will have more optimal hearing if they wear two hearing aids. Just like two eyes, it creates more balance and speech will be clearer. Studies have proven that if you "don't use it, you lose it" when it comes to your hearing. Essentially the ear without a hearing aid will lose its filtering ability and the pathways to your brain's hearing center won't be as efficient as it would be if you wore two hearing aids.

MYTH: I don't need hearing aids. I'll just turn up the volume.

FACT: Often times volume will distort sounds. Yelling or turning up the TV, radio or hearing aid may help a little, but it won't help those with problems hearing high frequency sounds. In fact asking others to speak up because you think they are mumbling or turning the TV up too loudly are common signs that you should see a specialist or talk to your provider about your hearing.

MYTH: Hearing aids will make the ringing in my head louder.

FACT: It's not true. In fact, it's the opposite. The number one treatment for those who experience ringing in the ears and also have hearing loss is hearing aids. Your brain wants to hear, and if it doesn't, one theory is it creates ringing to stimulate the brain. With hearing aids, ringing in your ears will typically get better.

MYTH: I only need to wear them when I need to hear.

FACT: The people who often do the poorest with hearing aids are those who only put them in when they "need to hear." When you only wear your hearing aids occasionally, your brain misses out on training itself to concentrate on what you want to hear. Your brain must be able to focus on normal sounds and to do so, it has to consistently hear noises and sounds. Furthermore, not wearing your hearing aids is a big safety concern. Without them in you can't differentiate between sounds and what is really going on around you.

Hearing loss can be scary, and it's often a very sensitive topic for people. But the more you know, the easier it is to embrace life with hearing problems.