It's normal to miss part of a conversation sometimes, but if you find yourself constantly struggling to keep up, it could be hearing loss.
Hearing loss affects a significant percentage of the population, young and old. Peggy Hayes, 63, of Orlando, experienced it firsthand.
The Struggle to Hear
As a child, recurring ear infections were the norm for Peggy. Ear tubes tiny cylinders surgically inserted in the eardrum to prevent fluid accumulation didn’t yet exist. And parents weren’t warned that if fluid lingered after an ear infection it could impair hearing.
Each autumn, Peggy participated in school hearing screenings. And each year, she was told one ear wasn’t as good as the other. She says her parents weren’t notified, and as a child, Peggy didn’t realize what it meant.
As she got older, hearing became more difficult, and she always asked, What did you say? or Say that again? Her children teased her that she was as bad as their grandfather, a former US Air Force pilot whose hearing was affected by repeated exposure to loud jet engines. If they watched TV, Peggy’s three children soon left the room, chased out by the earsplitting volume.
Nearly 1 in 5 Americans has significant hearing loss, according to a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
Why Hearing Loss Occurs
Hearing loss is more common today, especially since we're living longer and were exposed to more noise, says Carol Johnson, AuD, audiologist with AdventHealth.
Nearly two-thirds of Americans over age 70 have hearing loss, yet half of the hearing-impaired population is under 55.
When hearing loss is suspected, the first step is to complete a diagnostic hearing evaluation, says Dr. Johnson. A hearing test allows an audiologist to determine the type of hearing loss present.
There are two types. Conductive hearing loss occurs when sound isn't transmitted efficiently from the outer ear canal through the eardrum and to tiny bones of the middle ear space. Sensorineural hearing loss is diagnosed when the damage is to the inner ear (cochlea), or to nerve pathways from the inner ear to the brain.
Hearing at Last
Dr. Johnson performed Peggy’s evaluation and determined she had mild sensorineural hearing loss that significantly impacted her ability to communicate. She was fitted for discreet hearing aids that amplify sounds and make conversation much easier.
But to have a little fun with it, Peggy decided not to tell her children right away, instead letting them wonder why she no longer shouted or asked them to repeat things. When they figured it out, everyone had a good laugh, which Peggy delighted in hearing!