Letters to the Editor

Viewpoint: Listen: Take care of your hearing

When the U.S. Congress passed legislation naming May as National Better Hearing and Speech Month, its message was clear: Everyone needs to get baseline hearing evaluations and develop the habit of having regular hearing checks.

A series of unfortunate misconceptions stops so many Americans from doing this are. Chief among these are:

The No.1 cause of hearing loss is old age. Not so. The No. 1 cause of hearing loss is noise and it’s preventable.

Hearing loss is part of the normal aging process. Not so. The majority of Americans who suffer from hearing loss are younger than 65.

Hearing loss is always a symptom of damage to the ear. False. Hearing loss can be a symptom of many other serious medical conditions, such as brain tumors, diabetes and dementias.

There’s not much you can do to protect your hearing. False. Today, there are custom designed devices for a range of sports and professions that can protect your hearing from damage.

At a time when we’re all interested in living longer, healthier, more active lives, May is the perfect time to dispel these misperceptions and take steps to protect or enhance one of our most valuable senses. Let’s take them one at a time.

Contrary to the commonly held notion that old age is the number one cause of hearing loss, it’s really noise exposure that is the most frequent cause of hearing loss. Noise induced hearing loss can be caused by prolonged exposure to any loud noise over 85 decibels. This level of sound can be emitted by lawnmowers, fireworks, gun shots, MP3 players, TVs and radios. It can also be experienced at concerts and sporting events. Today’s advanced protection devices are comfortable and custom designed; they can go a long way toward preventing hearing loss in a broad range of professions, sports and activities. Construction workers, musicians, swimmers and hunters are only a few examples.

It’s estimated that 31 million Americans have some degree of hearing loss. But did you know that 2 out of 3 of them are under the age of 65? That’s why it’s so important for everyone, regardless of age, to establish a baseline hearing evaluation and then have annual hearing checks. Most people are tested in elementary school and then don’t consider another one until hearing loss is evident. Establishing a baseline audiogram before hearing loss occurs is vital in diagnosing future hearing loss. A simple hearing screening takes only five minutes.

Another little known fact is that hearing loss can be symptomatic of more serious conditions. Correctable hearing loss is one thing. But many people aren’t aware that hearing loss can also be a symptom of such diseases as depression, diabetes, Meniere’s disease, brain tumors, head injuries, reaction to toxic medications, Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.

Since many physicians don’t have the time to test every patient for every possible cause of hearing loss, they should always recommend that their patients visit a hearing specialist as part of their annual medical checkup. Annual hearing screenings by a trained hearing specialist can detect these conditions and save lives.

And finally, hearing loss is not an inevitable part of growing older. There is plenty we can do to protect our hearing and prevent its loss. This month, as part of National Better Hearing and Speech Month, we can all do a lot to help remove the stigma of hearing loss, encourage people to get the help they need and educate ourselves and others about the value of regular screenings. We all deserve to hear better so we can live better.

Aaron Marquis has worked in the field of hearing care and hearing instrument sciences since 1986. He is an audioprosthologist and the only specialist on the Central Coast with a Masters Certificate in Auditory Prosthetics.