When my friends and I get together for a glass of wine and good talks, at some point the topic of aging usually arises. And it might stop right there with: Hey, we’re still here, as the wine is passed and we begin to plan a trip or chuckle over the recent news of our grown children. Then again, we might focus on aspects of aging that we’re dealing with—thinning hair, the latest skincare tips, the need to go up or down a size, foot surgery—that seems to be more and more common after years of flip flops and high heels. But so far I haven’t noticed any one of us asking that we repeat things. Hearing loss is subtle and it’s easy to smile and pretend you heard everything.
THE UNTOUCHED TOPIC
Hearing loss is rarely discussed. I remember my friend Cathy, during a more philosophical talk we were having, saying that loosing her hearing would be worse than loosing her sight. When I expressed the exact opposite opinion and asked her why she took that stance, she immediately said how painful it would be to not hear music. Yes! And bird song and your granddaughter’s first word.
Hearing loss and the use of hearing aids is a delicate topic and we’ve often ignored it. That’s not to say that it won’t be a hot topic in the future. I’m predicting that it will be! And when one of us has to get some form of a hearing aid, I’m hoping it’s not hidden away, that we can talk about this, share information.
Consider: people born with eyesight can get glasses when needed or have eye surgery. People born with hearing can get hearing aids when needed. Hearing aids offer the ability to again partake in a conversation even though hearing loss has occurred. But unlike glasses, it is taking us a long time to consider them a cool thing. With new technologies, that is definitely changing. For more information, go here.
TINNITUS: A PRECURSOR
After a noisy family wedding back in 2001, I tried to fall asleep, but began to realize that I was experiencing a humming or buzzing that could only be tinnitus. A few months later an episode of vertigo that I experienced on awakening sent me immediately to my very kind doctor. He ran a bunch of tests, even checked me for Lyme disease. A few weeks later, being concerned about Meniere’s disease, I had a hearing test and physical exam with an ENT. Diagnosis, not Meniere’s but minor hearing loss and BPV—benign postural vertigo. (see definitions below)
I was relieved, but tinnitus can be extremely annoying. I read about it, and like some of the articles emphasized, I realized that relaxing into the condition instead of focusing on it helped my brain block the annoyance. I could hear and that’s the bottom line. I still have tinnitus and always will. Most often I am no longer aware of it, except when in a very quiet room. AND, after being around loud sounds for a long period of time like a concert or a wedding. Then it becomes exacerbated. Ear plugs help. So does avoidance of sounds from motors. I wear ear plugs when I vacuum or use machines doing yard work. (My goal is always prevention, no matter what aspect of my health is affected.) Sometimes I just plug my ears with my fingers if I pull up next to a car blasting whatever.
The diagnosis of tinnitus also underlined that hearing aids were probably in my future. I am fortunate to have longevity on my mother’s side of the family–grandmother, aunt and my mother all lived into their nineties. But all wore hearing aids.
HIGH AND LOW SOUNDS
The commonly stated range of human hearing is 20 Hz to 20 kHz. In a sound laboratory, which blocks out interfering sounds, humans can hear sound as low as 12 Hz and as high as 28 kHz. Individual hearing range can vary depending on the general condition of a person’s ears and nervous system. Women typically experience a lesser degree of hearing loss than men, with a later onset. Men have approximately 5 to 10 dB greater loss in the upper frequencies by age 40.
My husband and I are about the same age, but I have noted that I can hear high tones that he cannot hear. You can take a hearing test on your computer, but it might not be very accurate depending on the condition of the room you are taking the test in and the quality of the headphones you use. (I recently did a test of identifying musical notes. I did this for my nephew and did very well. I was pleased.) And once again, age and prolonged exposure to loud sounds can significantly lower your ability to hear high frequencies. Sensorineural hearing loss means that the loss is related to a problem with the cochlea or the inner ear. An exam done by an audiologist can usually determine the degree of hearing loss and why it is occurring. Educate yourself about hearing loss.
ACCEPTING WHAT’S GOING ON
Every one of us is aging. You might be 30, but yes, you are aging. It’s the human condition. And yes, I might have some years on you. So what am I doing about it? Lots of physical things to avoid immobility, which is the real killer. But also brain things. I read. I research. I write this blog. Being informed about hearing loss is better than doing the old HEAD IN THE SAND trick. Keep track of your health. If more and more you find yourself saying, WHAT, COULD YOU PLEASE REPEAT THAT? It is time to see your doctor or a specialist. And have those earplugs handy. You never know when your wild nephew might show up with his band.
Meiniere’s Disease: a disorder of the inner ear that causes episodes in which you feel as if you’re spinning (vertigo), and you have fluctuating hearing loss with a progressive, ultimately permanent loss of hearing, ringing in the ear (tinnitus), and sometimes a feeling of fullness or pressure in your ear. In most cases, Meniere’s disease affects only one ear.
BPV: Benign Positional Vertigo: develops when small pieces of calcium crystals that are normally in another area of the ear break free and find their way to the semicircular canal in your inner ear. This causes your brain to receive confusing messages about your body’s position.
Make Some Noise for National Tinnitus Awareness Week
photo credits: www.harpersbazaar.com.au, https://www.yourhearing.com/blog/make-some-noise-for-national-tinnitus-awareness-week/
This post was sponsored by YourHearing.com.