Hearing loss can come in many forms and levels of severity: a slight ringing in your ears or difficulty hearing high-pitched voices all the way up to challenges hearing the majority of sounds. But no matter the severity, it’s important to understand how hearing loss actually works and the steps you can take to cope with it, whether it’s key questions to ask your physician or ways to manage your important relationships.

To truly understand hearing loss, it helps to understand how we hear in the first place. Remember, when dealing with your health, equipping yourself with the proper information can be enormously empowering. If you understand the issue, it’s much easier to figure out how to cope with it.

How Hearing Works

When we hear a sound, we are actually interpreting sound waves that enter our ears and reach our brain via nerves. Sound waves travel into the ear via the ear canal and through the eardrum, which passes vibrations through a series of small bones into the inner ear. Once sound reaches the inner ear, thousands of hair cells pass the waves to the auditory nerve, which carries it to the brain.

How Hearing Loss Works

Over time, the component parts of the ear can begin to fail. One of the most common age-related issues is the gradual loss of hair cells in the inner ear, making it more difficult for sound waves to travel through the inner ear and into the brain. This process can be exacerbated by years of exposure to loud noises (such as live music and gas powered motors or machinery), which can cause a buildup of damage in the ear.

The National Institutes of Health estimates that nearly 50% of adults over age 75 have some form of age-related hearing loss.

There are other complications that can lead to hearing loss, too, although age-related loss is most common. Infections, trauma to the head, tumors, and severe allergies can all play a role in a loss of hearing ability.

It’s important, if you think you’re suffering from hearing loss, to consult your physician, who will likely recommend a hearing test to better understand the type and severity of your loss.

How to Cope: Ask Questions

Once you find out that you’re suffering from hearing loss—and have an understanding of why it’s happening—it’s time to figure out what to do next.

One of the most important steps in the process is to consult with your physician and the audiologist who carried out your hearing test. They can examine your audiogram (the graphical results of your hearing test) to determine the most appropriate next steps.

For many hearing loss sufferers, perhaps the best first step they can take is to simply ask questions. Here are a few common questions you may want to consider asking your doctor or audiologist:

  • How severe is my hearing loss? Though you may think you understand how severe your hearing loss is, your physician or audiologist has access to diagnostic tools that can provide you answers with much greater detail. For example, an audiogram can reveal the severity of hearing loss through multiple measurements—so make sure to ask your physician or audiologist to explain the severity of your hearing loss to you and provide you with your test results.
  • Why should I treat my hearing loss? One of the most common questions facing many hearing loss sufferers is why they should treat their hearing loss at all, as many have figured out coping mechanisms to deal with their hearing issues. But most doctors and audiologists will tell you that hearing loss left untreated can result in everything from social isolation to trouble with balance and movement. For example, a 2012 study found that hearing loss even at low levels tripled the risk of falls, while another found it doubled the risk of developing dementia.
  • Am I a good candidate for hearing aids? Many hearing loss sufferers believe that hearing aids will restore their hearing to the same level they enjoyed prior to loss. While hearing aids can be a major step forward in terms of quality of life and overall health, not every hearing loss sufferer is a good candidate for using them. Make sure to ask a hearing professional whether your type of hearing loss is the right fit for hearing aids. If your doctor does recommend hearing aids, don’t be daunted by the retail sticker price of $4000 to $7000. High-quality hearing aids can be purchased online, at retailers like Embrace Hearing, for about $1,500 to $2,000. 

 

How To Cope: Take Care of Yourself

“Hearing loss can create a psychological solitary confinement,” wrote Dr. Claudia Dewane, who suffers hearing loss herself and counsels others through the process. Despite this, Dewane notes, “many older adults with hearing loss deny the disability or the impact it exerts on their quality of life.”

Dewane and other professionals urge hearing loss sufferers—whether they have struggled with hearing loss for a long time or are suddenly learning to cope with it—to make recognizing the issue the first, and most crucial, step.

While this may seem obvious, statistics say otherwise: an estimated 22 million Americans suffer from hearing loss but don’t seek out hearing aids for help.

If you’re able to recognize that your hearing loss is an issue, you can take positive steps to help yourself cope mentally, too, including:

  • finding a support group or engaging with your peers who also suffer hearing loss;
  • learning more about hearing loss and the technologies that exist to help, including hearing aids and hearing loops;
  • visiting a therapist, counselor or other professional who can help teach coping strategies, including boosting your self-esteem.

        For many people, hearing loss is a natural part of life—but that doesn’t mean you can’t understand it and learn how to cope with its effects. The more you know about your own hearing loss, the more proactive you can be in finding solutions that work for you.