Do you know how to recognize the signs of a hearing issue? While the most obvious answer is “trouble hearing things” in practice, this can be quite hard to pin down. In part, this is because of the gradual onset of most hearing loss. Early on it can be easy to dismiss the occasional hearing difficulty as “no big deal” but then it becomes harder to distinguish when a gradual hearing loss has become a significant impediment to your daily life.
In truth, early detection and treatment are the best path to healthy hearing. Even hearing issues that don’t “seem like’ significant hearing loss should be tested by your hearing specialist. Finding hearing issues early allows you to treat them before they worsen. What is important to observe in your hearing? Here are some common signs that hearing loss may be developing:
Voices Sound Muted and Muffled
Many people are surprised to learn that hearing loss doesn’t mean a total loss of the ability to hear. In fact, most people with hearing loss can hear sounds, but distinguishing the details of the sound proves challenging. This is most obvious when listening to speech where words don’t sound clear. Most often this will first become a problem with very high or very low pitched voices.
You may first recognize a hearing problem when you find yourself frequently asking people to repeat themselves or speak up. Frequently observing that people are mumbling or speaking unclearly may instead be an indication that your hearing is being affected.
Periodically check the volume levels on your phone, radio, television and other devices. When your volume levels are turned up to within the highest third of their capacity it is often a sign that you are increasing volume levels in order to hear more fully. Whether you consciously or automatically increase your volume levels to hear better, listening at high volumes is a good indicator it is time to have your hearing tested.
Avoiding Social Settings
After a year of public health quarantines, this indicator of hearing loss may be a little harder to detect than normal. However, it is common for hearing loss to alter our social behavior. Hearing difficulty makes normal social activities less fun and can even sap our favorite activities of enjoyment. When basic conversation becomes too much of a challenge, people naturally begin to avoid activities like dining out, parties, and family dinners. If you notice changes in the ways you engage socially, the root may be a subconscious tendency toward avoiding the unpleasant social stress that hearing loss brings with it.
Recognizing “Hidden” Hearing Loss
Most cases of hearing loss are caused by permanent injury to the small sensory cells of the inner ear. Damage to these cells can be caused by a variety of factors. Most often excessive noise exposure plays a key role in hearing loss but infection, circulation problems and even some types of medication can also bring about this damage.
Now research is learning more about hearing loss that may be caused by damage to the protective sheathing of the auditory nerve. Commonly referred to as “hidden hearing loss”, this phenomenon can seem confounding: people who report significant problems in following conversations and understanding speech are able to pass a hearing test without signs of hearing loss.
With more being understood about hearing loss every year, more is becoming known about hidden hearing loss. Nerve damage in the auditory system allows people to hear adequately in quiet and simple sound environments but severely limits hearing in noisy, complex and busy surroundings. Operating like a hearing “overload” if you notice hearing concerns that aren’t reflected in your hearing test results, you may wish to talk to your audiologist about hidden hearing loss.
Hidden hearing loss is less responsive to treatment with hearing aids when compared to more common sensorineural hearing loss. Instead, research is looking at therapies that have the potential to repair damage to the nerves and their protective myelin sheathing.
Testing Is Key
Hearing loss can take a big toll on your health and quality of life if it goes undetected. When you recognize changes in the way you hear, it is important to act on them by scheduling a hearing test. A comprehensive hearing test helps monitor your hearing for issues and connects you with hearing solutions tailored to your needs.