As widespread as hearing loss is in Salem and across Oregon, it can be difficult to recognize the symptoms. Since October is National Audiology Awareness Month, it’s the perfect opportunity to educate people on the early warning signs of hearing loss.

Hearing Loss Isn’t Always Obvious

warning sign on the side of road

How many people have hearing loss in the U.S.?

It’s estimated that hearing loss affects roughly 20 percent of people in Salem to some degree. Yet, only about one out of every five individuals with a hearing impairment seeks treatment. There are various reasons for this, but many people simply don’t know that they have a hearing problem.

How does hearing loss progress?

The condition usually develops gradually, and the brain does a remarkable job of filling in the gaps by borrowing cognitive resources from other key areas to help improve hearing. It’s no wonder it takes the average person in Oregon seven years from the onset of hearing loss to actually book an appointment with an audiologist.

By then, precious years have been squandered and options for treatment are fewer. Making matters worse? Untreated hearing loss increases your risk of developing a number of physical, social and psychological health complications including isolation, loneliness, stress, depression and dementia. The sooner you get help for your condition, the better off you’ll be.

Six early warning signs of hearing loss

  • “Huh?” is the most popular word in your vocabulary. If you frequently find yourself missing out on snippets of conversation and constantly asking others to repeat what they have just said, you may be experiencing high-frequency hearing loss. This makes certain consonant sounds hard to distinguish (e.g., “show” and “throw”). Women and children are particularly difficult to understand. Many people mistakenly believe that others are mumbling or not enunciating clearly, but it’s unlikely that everybody else has suddenly forgotten how to speak properly. If you think you can fake your way through it by nodding your head or saying “yes” to anything you’re asked, you are setting yourself up for potential embarrassment.
  • Your better half complains that you’re watching TV too loudly. Look, we get it—the “Charles in Charge” theme song is one catchy ditty. But if you’re listening to it loudly enough to drown out a passing thunderstorm, something else might be amiss. Cranking up the volume to a level others find uncomfortable is one sure sign of hearing loss.
  • You have difficulty following telephone conversations. Many people prefer texting to actual telephone conversations these days. If your reasons for texting have less to do with emojis and more to do with the fact that you strain to follow conversations when speaking on the phone, it’s quite possible that your hearing is betraying you. Don’t even think about blaming it on a bad connection—the only static you’re hearing is between your brain and ears, the result of damage to the sensory hair cells in your inner ear that convert sounds into electrical impulses for the brain to interpret.
  • You hear a ringing in your ears (and nobody is standing on your front porch). Tinnitus is the sensation of a phantom sound in your ears, often described as a ringing, though it may also resemble a buzzing, hissing, roaring, whooshing, clicking or other noise. Tinnitus is the result of damaged hair cells “misfiring” and is often associated with hearing loss.
  • Following conversations in noisy environments is all but impossible. Background noise is inescapable; it’s especially pronounced in restaurants, bars and other public places. We all strain to hear when there’s lots of background activity, but if your struggles are accompanied by mental and physical fatigue, you are probably experiencing “listener fatigue,” a hallmark sign of hearing loss.
  • You become a hermit. Listener fatigue is enough to make many people withdraw from social activities, choosing to isolate themselves in the comfort of their own home rather than struggle with trying to hear. If you find yourself staying home instead of enjoying activities that once brought you pleasure, you may have hearing loss.

If you are experiencing the following signs and haven’t had your hearing checked, schedule an appointment with a Salem audiologist for a hearing evaluation. Better to be safe than sorry; the sooner a problem is detected, the faster it can be treated.

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