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Posted on Monday, December 26, 2011

Making Sense of Hearing Loss

People blessed with sight and hearing sometimes play the “sense game,” wondering which sense would be the worse to lose. It’s a silly diversion with impossible answers. It’s as difficult to imagine being unable to see the sky or a child’s face as it is to imagine being unable to hear a violin playing or a daughter’s sparkling laughter. And since all of our senses are so precious a gift, it is that much harder for people to understand how the loss of a portion of this bounty could happen so gradually as to go unnoticed.

The truth of the matter is that the silence of a car honking is more easily missed than the blurry outlines of a sign along the drive home. It is also true that society has brilliantly managed to focus awareness on the loss of eyesight, and that this same awareness needs to be raised about hearing loss.

Individuals who take care of their hearing have less health problems, make more money, and are more engaged and happier. So why are so many people ignoring their ears?

A gradual decline in vision is unlikely to go unnoticed in comparison to a decline in hearing loss, because someone squinting raises questions whereas someone asking for something to be repeated is more easily blamed on the individual. When the inability of someone to hear and comprehend is brushed aside in this manner hearing loss solutions take longer to be recognized and addressed. This is why people with undiagnosed hearing loss find themselves being accused of not paying attention, of being lazy, or worse, of not being intelligent enough to understand. The lack of awareness around signs of hearing loss means a television turned up to high levels is more likely to be defined as a bad habit or rudeness instead of a hearing loss symptom. This happens at home, work, and in school--where a teacher may misunderstand why a child asks to have something repeated. The same teacher, educated about vision problems, might react gently if a child misinterprets what’s written on the blackboard.

Signs of hearing loss need to become more widely known in order to combat what is the third largest health problem in America.

A difficulty understanding conversation with more than two people, a belief that many people are mumbling, a ringing in the ears (tinnitus), and an inability to understand higher pitched voices like women and children are all signs of hearing loss. Few of the signs of hearing loss are as well known as problems with vision. How has the either or mentality of this “sense game” become accepted as a part of society, with hearing losing out? There are a lot of reasons for the double standard between the focus on vision versus hearing, but the result is obvious. The everyday world is populated with people wearing reading glasses, using contacts, and who doesn’t know someone who’s had LASIK surgery? Correcting faulty vision is considered a basic right in healthcare. Yet there remains an unwarranted stigma around the use of hearing aids.

Much like children who wore glasses were once mocked as being, “four eyed”, people who correct a loss of hearing are stigmatized as being different.

Even with the amazing technological advances made in the auditory industry and the myriad ways these devices improve lives and relationships, the apparent shame of improving faulty hearing continues despite the greater health benefit. Hearing fitness is a right for every individual. It is time for society to establish a focus on hearing that is as helpful and necessary as that of eyesight. Please share this article with family and friends. Let’s make keeping our subtle and precious hearing fitness a top priority. After all, there are some difficult questions that are not a game, and divisive answers we don’t need to ponder or accept.

If you'd like to learn more, see your hearing health provider. If you need help finding a hearing health provider click HERE to be connected with the largest network of trusted hearing health professionals in the nation!

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