By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
Every baby born in a hospital receives a newborn hearing exam.
Unfortunately, the next time that the person’s hearing is examined is typically once a significant degree of hearing is lost.
Joe Kozelsky, retired audiologist, honorary board member of the Hearing Loss Association of America Rochester Chapter in Fairport and author of the forthcoming book “Hearing, Hearing Loss and Hearing Aids,” said parents should have their preschool-aged children’s ears checked more often. “[If children] seem irritable, discomfited and they seem unwell, if someone doesn’t respond right away or seem to be ignoring you but it’s inconsistent, problems with their ears may be the reason.”
Sometimes, it’s a problem stemming from an ear-nose-throat related illness that could cause damage to hearing unless addressed promptly. Kozelsky also noted that anatomical differences may cause kids’ ears to not drain fluids correctly, so that can contribute to illnesses and hearing issues.
School-aged children may seem to not listen in school, keep the TV or other devices loud or seem confused when given directions that are age-appropriate in complexity.
For adults, it’s typically other adults who signal a hearing problem is present.
“Hearing loss is elusive to the person experiencing it,” Kozelsky said. “It causes a decrease in hearing distance. In early hearing loss, the person always hears when conditions are great or if the person they’re speaking with is closer than 20 feet or if the person raises their voice a little. They think hearing is normal. It’s the only disability that others can make it better for you. As hearing goes down, you hear fine as long as people make it loud.”
Some less obvious signs he included are not hearing the crickets at night or the birds during the day. Dizziness or ringing in the ears (tinnitus) can also indicate a hearing problem.
Losing hearing can cause different and significant problems across the lifespan. For children, diminished hearing can interfere with language acquisition, learning and development of social understanding.
“Most of the times, kids suffer from fluid in their ears and have a temporary hearing loss,” said Kaelynn Briggs, audiologist with Clear Choice Hearing & Balance in Rochester. “We can help them address it on the spot. It’s harder for kids to develop speech if they aren’t hearing.”
For school aged children who have lifelong hearing loss, early intervention can help them stay abreast with their schoolwork. Neglecting hearing issues can cause them to fall behind.
Working adults should also promptly address hearing issues. Otherwise, “you can miss important information in a meeting or information you need in the future,” Briggs said.
Not hearing correctly for long periods of time can make people appear inept, ambivalent or uncommitted. For people working in environments such as construction or agriculture, not hearing well can compromise their safety because they don’t realize what they’re missing.
“If we find they have hearing loss, the hearing aids can help reduce background noise and allow them to catch what people are saying,” Briggs said. Hearing aids also have noise reduction qualities in them, so it dampens loud sounds to protect their ears.
For older adults, letting hearing loss go too long can increase the risk of cognitive impairment because the part of the brain stimulated by hearing sounds receives less input. Waiting can also make acclimating to hearing aids more challenging as the brain has to relearn how to process sounds again. Briggs added that untreated hearing loss can also increase risk for falls.
“A lot of people who have problems with balance don’t realize it can be related to their ears,” Briggs said. “We also do balance evaluations. A lot of times when we have hearing loss, our brain puts so much effort into hearing that it forgets about balance. When they wear their hearing aids, they can focus on balance and dizziness.”
Unfortunately, it can take many people a long time to discover and treat hearing loss—the average time is seven years.
“A lot of our time is spent in explaining the hearing loss, what may have caused it, how it can change if it’s not treated and how it can affect their life,” Briggs said.
As with many areas of health, the sooner a problem is identified and addressed, the better, she said.