Most people tend to ignore the warning signs of hearing loss. Yet, it’s the third most common health problem in the United States behind heart disease and arthritis. In fact, according to the Center for Hearing and Communication, 48 million people in the U.S. have some degree of hearing loss and that number continues to rise each year.
Recent research also suggests a relationship between hearing loss and cognitive decline. However, while it is often associated with aging, that’s not always the case. Hearing loss can be diagnosed at birth or can develop at any age.
That’s why the American Academy of Audiology has designated October as National Audiology Awareness Month. The goals are to increase public awareness about the importance of maintaining hearing health or pursuing successful ways to rehabilitate hearing loss. In addition, Audiology Awareness Month serves to educate the public about the role of audiologists, who are the licensed primary healthcare professionals in the treatment of hearing loss. They are trained to evaluate, diagnose, and treat hearing loss found in individuals young and old. Audiologists perform comprehensive hearing evaluations from which they can diagnose several hearing loss conditions including those related to aging, genetics, noise exposure, ear infections, trauma, and ototoxic medications, to name a few.
They also treat patients who need hearing aids, cochlear implants, or assistive listening devices, as well as provide rehabilitative services for patients with tinnitus and balance disorders.
With hearing loss in the U.S. doubling over the last 30 years, notably among the elderly–65 and older–and the Center for Disease Control’s findings that there has been a 31 percent increase in hearing loss among those between 12 and 19 years old over the last decade, the need for audiologists is growing.
In California, there are approximately 2000 audiologists who are licensed by the Department of Consumer Affairs Speech-Language Pathology & Audiology &Hearing Aid Dispensers Board.
The Harvard Health website lists several early warning signs of hearing loss. Some include:
- WHEN PEOPLE SPEAK IT SOUNDS LIKE THEY ARE MUMBLING. You may think they don’t speak clearly or that they have soft voices.
- YOU DON’T HEAR LOUD SOUNDS: You’re missing sounds that others hear, like an alarm, a doorbell, or a TV. Or maybe you must turn up the volume on the radio and TV to hear.
- YOU NEED TO SEE SOMEONE’S FACE TO HAVE A CONVERSATION: It may be necessary to focus on faces, expressions, and lip movements in order to communicate better.
- YOU’RE HAVING DISAGREEMENTS: You’re frequently missing words someone says, or confusing the words, or not responding to someone because you didn’t hear the person, which can lead to misunderstandings.
- IT’S DIFFICULT TO HEAR WHEN THERE’S BACKGROUND NOISE: People around you can hear each other in a busy restaurant, or if there’s music playing, but you can’t hear what others are saying in that environment.
If you suspect you may be experiencing hearing loss, visit a licensed audiologist who can evaluate and determine your condition and provide any necessary services. To check the license of an audiologist, visit the DCA License Search website.
For more information about hearing loss, visit the Speech Language Pathology & Audiology & Hearing Dispensers Board website at www.speechandhearing.ca.gov Their consumer guide is chock-full of information pertaining to the types and degrees of hearing loss, testing procedures, hearing aid technology and hearing professionals.