How to Identify Hearing Loss

Better Hearing With Awareness and Audiology

About 20 percent of Americans report some degree of hearing loss, and by the age of 65, that prevalence can be as high as one in three. Moreover, research suggests that people often wait as many as 10 years before seeking treatment.

“In most cases, hearing loss occurs very gradually and as a result, many people won’t notice its effects immediately,” says Alan G. Micco, MD, an otolaryngologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. “There are different types and different degrees of hearing loss and, often times, you may be able to still hear well at certain frequencies and in certain environments, while missing words and struggling to understand in others.”

Social situations tend to be where hearing loss becomes most apparent. You may be at the beginning stages of hearing loss if you find yourself:

  • Often asking people to repeat themselves
  • Having trouble following group conversations
  • Tending to misunderstand people
  • Interpreting most speech as mumbling
  • Listening to music or TV at a high volume
  • Experiencing ringing in your ears
  • Needing to concentrate particularly hard during conversations

Impact on Your Emotional Health

In addition to impacting your ability to hear and sometimes function, hearing loss can also impact your emotional health. You may feel more stressed from straining to hear, or annoyed at others and yourself when you have trouble understanding them. It may impact your excitement to participate in social events or cause you to avoid activities you used to enjoy.

What Causes Hearing Loss

You may be more likely to have hearing loss if you have a family history or are taking medications that can harm the hearing system. Diabetes and heart or circulation problems may also be warning signs of hearing loss.

Excessive noise is the most common cause of hearing loss. Exposure to loud noise, which is defined as over 85 decibels and includes sounds ranging from a chainsaw to a jet engine, can become dangerous when repeated often.

Quick quizzes, like this Hearing Health Test from the American Academy of Audiology, can help you determine if you’re suffering from or beginning to feel the effects of hearing loss.

Hearing Aid Options

If you or someone you know appears to be suffering from hearing loss, an audiologist can help you find the best treatment for your level of loss. Hearing aids come in many different sizes and shapes. In addition, there are many accessories available for hearing in more challenging listening situations, such as background noise, distance, and hearing accurately on the telephone. Your audiologist can help choose the right options for you based on your lifestyle and listening needs, as well as your cosmetic preferences.

Only one out of five people who could benefit from a hearing aid actually wear one. To learn more about treatment options for hearing loss, reach out to the Audiology Services team at Northwestern Medicine.