Adapted from AARP’s Hearing Loss for Dummies, by Frank Lin, M.D., and audiologist Nicholas Reed
As clinicians, we’re used to hearing all sorts of wacky stuff about hearing, which often stems from the public not having access to clear, easily accessible information on hearing loss. Read on for some of the most common myths we’ve encountered when talking to our patients and in the broader media.
1. Hearing loss is just part of getting older, so it can’t be that important
There’s a tendency to dump hearing loss into the same category as graying hair and wrinkles: an inevitable and innocuous process that comes with aging. In contrast, we make high blood pressure — another condition that often comes with aging — a priority, understanding the impact that it can have on strokes and heart attacks.
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Over the past 10 years, researchers have come to understand that hearing loss has objective and significant effects on our health and well-being, including our social relationships, risk of falls, depression, and risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Hearing and communicating have an impact on everything we do. Most importantly, clinicians and researchers believe that addressing hearing loss through the communication strategies and technologies we discuss in Hearing Loss for Dummies can make a difference in helping keep us engaged and healthy.
2. My hearing is fine; it’s just that everyone is mumbling
Speech that comes across as mumbling is exactly what hearing loss sounds like. Hearing loss develops as the inner ear (cochlea) ages and can no longer send clear signals to the brain. To our brains, this sounds exactly as if people are mumbling all the time. Some situations are better (or worse) than others. Talking in a quiet room with someone sitting close and face-to-face with you, you’ll notice far fewer issues with your hearing loss than in settings with background noise or a speaker who is far away.
3. I’ll wait to get my hearing tested until I notice a problem
You may not even realize that you have a hearing loss until you get your hearing tested. The very nature of how we hear makes noticing hearing loss very difficult. First, hearing loss occurs slowly over time — so slowly, in fact, that our brains constantly adjust to our surroundings and barely notice a change. Second, our brains are bombarded with sounds all day long and do a great job of learning what to ignore or pay attention to. This means we’re actually preprogrammed to ignore sounds that aren’t interesting to us. But sound is invisible and can’t be felt to the touch, so we have no way to know what we’re missing.
Authors Frank Lin and Nicholas Reed at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine lay out the steps to hearing health, including new advice on just-released over-the-counter hearing aids.
People are notoriously bad at judging their own hearing. Instead of taking a wait-and-see approach, be proactive. Get your hearing testing professionally or use a self-testing app on a smartphone to learn your hearing number and monitor it over time. Then continue to check your hearing every year or so. If you don’t have hearing loss now, you’ll have a baseline. If you do, rest assured that taking action on your part — such as using hearing aids earlier rather than later — can help make the adjustment process easier.
4. Hearing aids fix your hearing
The idea that hearing aids “fix” hearing loss is clearly the biggest myth of all, and it’s perpetuated by all the marketing you see about hearing aids. Hearing aids don’t fix your hearing problems any more than a prosthetic leg “fixes” the challenges of having a lower leg amputation. A hearing aid certainly helps with hearing and communication, but it also needs to be coupled with using communication strategies and optimizing external factors that can improve the sound quality of what you’re trying to hear. With hearing loss, the inner ear is damaged, so a range of technologies and strategies are needed to help the brain understand the sounds coming from the ear.
5. A cochlear implant is only for people who are completely deaf
The idea that only people who are totally deaf can benefit from a cochlear implant is a huge myth! The vast majority of those who get cochlear implants are now adults in their 70s, 80s and even 90s who have progressively lost hearing over time and are finding that they’re still struggling to communicate, even with hearing aids. When in a quiet room with a single speaker, these patients can often still communicate OK, but in other situations, they will struggle. If you’ve been told that you have a moderate hearing loss or worse (or your hearing number is in the 60s or higher) and you’re struggling to communicate with hearing aids in any place other than a quiet room with a single speaker, we recommend that you be evaluated for a cochlear implant or at least find out more. Nearly all academic centers and larger private ear, nose and throat (ENT) practices have a cochlear implant program where you can get evaluated. The evaluation and cochlear implants are routinely covered by health insurance.
Read five more important myths about hearing loss in AARP’s Hearing Loss for Dummies.
Copyright © 2022 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Adapted with permission from AARP’s Hearing Loss for Dummies by Frank Lin, M.D, and Nicholas Reed, Au.D., published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.