Hearing issues can affect your whole life, including your cognitive health, and can happen at any age.
Pssst! Hello! HEL-LO-O! Can you hear me?
Probably not as well as you used to. And while we often associate hearing loss with growing old, the truth is it can happen at any age. Yes, the years take their toll. But so does the world around us.
Remember that jerk with the foghorn at the football game — the one that made your ears ring? Or blasting Cardi B through your Beats?
Then again, it could be the result of genetics.
They all can have a lasting impact on your hearing. And just like we know that regular exercise and not smoking makes a difference for our bodies, a big part of hearing health is under our control.
“Unfortunately,” says Dr. Victoria Ledon, an audiologist with the University of Miami Health System and a fellow of the American Academy of Audiology, “many people may not be knowledgeable about how noise can really impact their ears, or may not prioritize protecting their hearing. But, it is very important to use ear plugs when needed, as it is probably the one thing that we can do to make sure our hearing doesn’t change with time.”
Sudden versus gradual
There are different kinds of hearing loss, and different kinds of treatment.
For many of us hearing loss is gradual, a more or less steady decline over time which, like an expanding waistline, we might not notice for a while.
“It might be that their loved ones, family, friends or coworkers noticed the difficulty,” says Dr. Ledon. “My patients will say things like, ‘No, no, I can hear fine. The problem is that the other person is mumbling’ or ‘I just mistook one word for another.’”
Sometimes, though, hearing loss happens suddenly. In one or both ears. If that happens, says Dr. Ledon, don’t wait. It may recover — but only if it gets treated in time.
“Some people get sudden hearing loss from one minute to the next,” she says. “It’s really important for those kinds of patients to see their ENT doctor immediately because there could be a potential medical intervention that can help resolve their hearing loss.”
Check it out
Some kinds of hearing loss cause problems with high frequencies, or the consonant sounds of speech. Other types might make it sound like your ear is plugged up, or you’re underwater.
Either way, if you find yourself turning up the TV volume, or turning on the closed captions, it couldn’t hurt to get a hearing checkup. And it could hurt — a lot — not to.
“There have been several studies recently that have shown an association between things like memory and cognitive changes in people who have untreated hearing loss,” says Dr. Ledon.
In fact, she says, annual hearing tests are a good idea, the same way you get your eyes checked every year whether you wear glasses or not, “just to establish a baseline or monitor for changes.”
Because, in the end, it’s really about our quality of life.
“People who have hearing loss tend to become a little reclusive,” she says. “They tend to not want to do social activities like they used to, and we don’t want that. We want to keep people engaged. We want to keep people doing the things that they love, going out with their friends and family, going to the theater, going to the movies, doing all those things that keep them happy.”
Carlos Harrison is a contributing writer for UMiami Health News. He is a former national and international television correspondent, as well as a newspaper and magazine writer and editor.