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Happy World Hearing Day!

Today is World Hearing Day! The World Health Organization has declared March third as a day to learn how to prevent or treat hearing loss.

While there can be many reasons for hearing loss, the most common cause is exposure to loud noises and aging, though anyone can lose their hearing after an illness or accident.  Some people have genetic conditions that cause hearing loss, as well. It is not always possible to prevent hearing loss, but in this noisy world, protecting your hearing is crucial to hearing health.

Tips for protecting your hearing are —

  1. Lower the volume while streaming music or podcasts from your phone.
  2. Wear ear plugs while working with loud equipment such as chain saws, lawnmowers, drills, and blowers.
  3. Wear ear plugs when you drive or ride on a motorcycle or in other loud vehicles.
  4. Wear ear plugs while at loud concerts and sporting events. Fans are so loud in my city, we caused a small earthquake. I am already profoundly deaf, so I don’t worry about my own hearing, but I am concerned about the many people sitting around me not wearing ear protection at football and hockey games. If you are too proud to wear ear plugs at sporting events, PLEASE make sure to protect your kid’s ears at these events at least.
  5. Wear ear protection if you work in a noisy environment.
  6. Have your hearing screened if you are routinely around noise or are getting up in years.
  7. Check the loudness of your surroundings by downloading a phone app that records decibel levels. You might be surprised.
  8. Avoid ototoxic drugs when possible.

What are ototoxic drugs?

These are drugs that have been known to damage hearing.  While it’s not always possible to avoid certain prescription drugs, it is wise to be aware of the side effects of any drugs prescribed to you.  Of course, not everyone experiences all the known side effects of the drugs they are taking.  Just be aware.  If you begin to experience signs of hearing loss while taking a prescription drug, talk to your doctor to see if there is an alternative to the prescribed treatment.  Also, always follow directions on the pill bottle.

People at a bar talking. A woman in the foreground.
  1. Ringing in the ears (This is called tinnitus.)
  2. Having trouble hearing others when at parties, bars, restaurants or in other noisy environments.
  3. Having trouble understanding people when they wear face masks.
  4. Having trouble hearing on the phone.
  5. Not being able to hear the TV when there is background noise.
  6. Having trouble hearing small children with high pitched voices.
  7. Cannot understand whispering.
  8. Experiencing bouts of vertigo.

Some signs of hearing loss that should be checked out –

  1. Ringing in the ears (This is called tinnitus.)
  2. Having trouble hearing others when at parties, bars, restaurants or in other noisy environments.
  3. Having trouble understanding people when they wear face masks.
  4. Having trouble hearing on the phone.
  5. Not being able to hear the TV when there is background noise.
  6. Having trouble hearing small children with high pitched voices.
  7. Cannot understand whispering.
  8. Experiencing bouts of vertigo.

Many people think that going deaf means someone cannot hear at all.  The truth is that someone can be profoundly deaf and still hear a lot of sound.  It’s just that the sound they hear doesn’t make sense.  This is easier to understand if talking about sight.  Some blind people see colors and light, but everything is blurry and out of focus.  It is the same with hearing.  Someone who is profoundly deaf may hear sound, but they are unable to make sense of speech. A friend of mine once described it as “blurry hearing”. If you ever tried to talk underwater as a kid, severe to profound deafness sounds like that.

If you think you have hearing loss-

See your doctor or an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist for a hearing test.  Sometimes, a doctor can mitigate hearing loss, tinnitus, and vertigo with medications. If you have been told that you need to wear hearing devices, do not put off getting them out of vanity.  Hearing loss itself is far more noticeable than wearing hearing devices.  Nowadays, hearing aids are smaller than they used to be, are more comfortable, and come in a variety of fun colors. Some are tiny and can be worn inside the ear.  Over the ear or behind the ear devices can be discreet and unnoticeable too.  Hearing devices have many programs to help you hear in a variety of different situations. Be sure to ask your audiologist about the various programs on your hearing aids, and what can be done to help you hear in different environments.

Some studies have shown that wearing hearing aids or other hearing devices can decrease susceptibility to other health problems such as Alzheimer’s disease, depression and alcohol abuse. Recent research indicates that wearing hearing devices may even decrease fall risk in the elderly, as they can improve spatial awareness and balance.

One of the important steps in managing your hearing loss is to let people know.  I was young when I first began wearing hearing aids, and I felt embarrassed about it, so I didn’t tell people.  I found out later that my neighbor thought I was a snob because I ignored her when she tried to get my attention.  Others in my office thought I was moody for the same reason. Some people thought I was inattentive and flakey.  Because of the stigmas associated with hearing loss, it is hard to inform people.  Trust me- life is so much easier when you let others know. Hearing loss is invisible, and telling people will help them be more understanding when you do not hear them. They are more likely to accommodate you by speaking up and enunciating more clearly.

Alternatives to Hearing Aids

Two alternatives to regular hearing aids are bone conduction hearing aids and cochlear implants.  Bone conduction aids are for people with conductive hearing loss and other conditions your audiologist may discuss with you. Read more about cochlear implants here. Losing your hearing is not the end of the world, though it can severely impact your social and work life if not treated.  In the past, there were few remedies for hearing loss. Thanks to modern technology, many solutions exist to help people manage hearing loss in addition to hearing devices.

Assistive Listening Devices include phone captioning apps, communication access realtime translation (CART). flashing baby alarms and fire alarms, flashing door knockers, vibrating alarm clocks, captioned television and movie captioning devices.  The list of Assistive Listening Devices (ALDs) is long.  It helps to connect with others who have hearing loss.  The best advice I have ever received about managing life with hearing loss has come from other people with hearing loss.  Learning about hearing devices and ALD’s that other people use improves my life dramatically. Join the SayWhatClub lists or Facebook group to meet others with hearing loss.

Kim Ward wears two cochlear implants.  She was on the SayWhatClub board of directors for six years (2017-2023), and she is currently Treasurer on the board of directors with the Washington Communication Access Project, an organization that advocates for captioning access in the state of Washington, USA. She is also an Admin for the Faceook group called Cochlear Implant Experiences, which has over 45,000 international group members.