Millions of people in the United States suffer from mild hearing loss, but many avoid scheduling a hearing test to determine the cause. Blane Anderson, CCC-A, senior audiologist for America Hears, notes, "As the baby-boom generation ages, more people are going to be affected by hearing loss. And therefore, in this decade, there is going to be more awareness, simply because of the numbers that are going to experience hearing loss." However, many of those suffering from mild hearing loss may not yet understand their condition, or may want to dismiss it entirely, despite concerned comments from family and friends.
Those with mild hearing loss often do not take the steps needed to correct the problem, starting with the administration of a hearing test, for an average of five to seven years after they first notice they are experiencing symptoms. A hearing test can determine the cause of mild hearing loss, and hearing aids can improve one's quality of life, but there is often a period of denial or hesitation that must be overcome before the appointment for the hearing test is made.
See if you recognize yourself in any of these typical reactions to the suggestion from others that one is suffering from mild hearing loss and needs a hearing test.
- "I can hear just fine. People aren't talking loud enough, that's the problem. I hear them, but they mumble and I just can't understand some of their words. I don't need a hearing test to tell me anything."
- "It would cost too much to get a hearing test and then buy a hearing aid that wouldn't really help me. I'm fine, and anyway, my friends told me that their hearing aids make things worse!"
- "I'm not old! Only old people need hearing aids! If I wear a hearing aid, everyone will see, and they'll think I'm old!"
Let's address these concerns one at a time.
"I Can Hear Just Fine"
It may at first seem like you only have very mild hearing loss, if any, because you can hear someone talking to you, or you can hear the television or a movie, you just can't catch every word. Or you may be having trouble following conversations, but you always come up with a reason why — it's too noisy, people are speaking too fast, or there are too many people talking at once. The truth is that when you have early, mild hearing loss, you will start to have trouble hearing certain higher frequency sounds. Consonant sounds are in that higher register, so while you may hear voices , you may find yourself mistaking similar-sounding words, like "tent" and "temp" or "time" and "kind."
If you suspect you have mild hearing loss, you should begin by visiting your local doctor or an ENT (ear, nose, and throat specialist) to have a hearing test performed. The doctor will be able to use the results of the hearing test to rule out or fix any correctable medical conditions, and will then be able to assess whether a hearing aid can help with your mild hearing loss. After your hearing test and diagnosis, you will be able to purchase a hearing aid and have it properly calibrated to your specific needs. With this solution, you will find you can eliminate embarrassing or confusing incidents and hear better in general, improving your overall quality of life.
"It Costs Too Much"
Cost is often another concern for someone who is beginning to feel the effects of mild hearing loss. A hearing test can often be administered for free or may be covered by your insurance. Additionally, not all hearing aids are prohibitively expensive, and prices have gone down significantly in recent years. Visit local stores, make phone calls, and search on the Internet, and you will find that some companies, particularly manufacturers, will handle your hearing test and offer reasonable prices for high-end hearing aids. Of course, you should always be careful that you are getting both a good deal and a good product, but with a little bit of time and research, you can find a vendor that satisfies both needs.
If you are not sure if there is a product out there that will improve your hearing, test a number of hearing aids, so you don't need to make a commitment you're not comfortable with. Reputable vendors will normally give you a 30 to 60 day trial period. Ask up front if there are any restocking fees involved if you choose to return the product — some companies will charge a percentage of the final cost of the product, while others will let you return the hearing aid for a complete refund. You should take advantage of this trial period, as it will allow you to see how much your mild hearing loss can improve with the particular product. You will often find that today's hearing aids will give you significant benefits that are worth the cost.
In addition, technology is constantly changing. A hearing test can now determine if you have even very mild hearing loss, and the new generation of digital hearing aids has nearly eliminated the problems of feedback and extraneous noise that plagued earlier models. A new, top-of-the-line digital hearing aid can help you with sounds you were missing, including those lost consonants, without introducing additional, distracting noises. And some hearing aid manufacturers have adjustment processes that can be performed in a store or office or even over the Internet so that you can ensure that your hearing aid has the right settings for your needs.
"I'm Not Old!"
It is true that hearing aids of past years did have a stigma attached to them. They were large and bulky, and usually they were visible to anyone who walked by. But just as the internal technology has changed, so have the external characteristics of digital hearing aids. New models either exist or are being developed that can hide in your ear canal or even behind your ear inconspicuously while correcting your mild hearing loss. Now, when you're wearing your hearing aid, nobody else has to know.
In addition, hearing aid technology has an exciting future, according to Anderson. He notes, "As technology evolves, more and more data will be able to be wirelessly transmitted. In the future, you will be able to have hearing aid hookups to different external devices, such as an mp3 player, a cell phone, or a television." Anderson also notes that as microchips are getting smaller, "the amount of data processing power is increasing at a phenomenal pace," allowing for hearing aids to shrink in size while maintaining quality. If you'd checked out hearing aids five years ago, you should take a look at the new models — you might be surprised at how far things have come and how easily mild hearing loss can be corrected.
Still concerned about being perceived as "old" when you have a hearing test or use a hearing aid? While age can certainly be a factor in mild hearing loss, environmental issues are also causes, and hearing loss can affect people of all ages. Someone who was in the military, exposed to the loud noises of war, or someone who worked in a factory with noisy machinery might develop hearing loss at an earlier age. Don't be embarrassed by your mild hearing loss — get a hearing test and then work to correct it.
It can be difficult to accept that one is suffering from mild hearing loss, but it can also be difficult to ignore the comments and concerns from friends and family members. As hearing aid technology evolves, solutions that are discrete and cost-effective are becoming the norm. Start by having a complete hearing test done, and then take steps to purchase corrective devices. Make sure you find a vendor that you feel comfortable with when purchasing hearing aids, and see if you can have a risk-free trial period while you consider your options. Think about it — how much time and energy are you spending apologizing because you misheard something, or asking someone to speak louder or to repeat themselves? Having a hearing test and purchasing hearing aids can alleviate the many issues your mild hearing loss has caused — and isn't that worth it?