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Common Hearing Loss Myths


Myth

Hearing loss affects only older adults.

Fact

There are an estimated 48 million people with hearing loss in at least one ear in the U.S., and about two-thirds are under 65 years old. A 2010 Journal of the American Medical Association study examining a comprehensive data set of the U.S. population found that 1 in 5 children ages 12 to 19 showed some sign of hearing loss in one or both ears.

The World Health Organization has warned that 1.1 billion teenagers and young adults are at risk of hearing loss “due to the unsafe use of personal audio devices, including smartphones, and exposure to damaging levels of sound at noisy entertainment venues such as nightclubs, bars, and sporting events.”


Myth

Hearing loss doesn’t affect the rest of my health.

Fact

Hearing loss has been associated with cognitive decline, dementia, falls, social isolation, and depression.
It’s theorized that the “cognitive load” on the brain may take away resources the brain uses for other functions—such as short-term memory. Researchers are now studying whether treating the hearing loss, such as with hearing aids, can reverse or even prevent some of these conditions. A 2015 French study examining population-based data spanning 25 years found that hearing aid use “attenuated” (reduced) hearing loss–associated cognitive decline.


Myth

Hearing aids are like glasses.

Fact

When one puts on a pair of glasses, vision instantly can be corrected to 20/20. This is not true of hearing, as a brain needs time to adjust to the sound coming through the hearing aid. Because of each person’s unique audiogram, with differences in abilities to hear various frequencies, the hearing aid needs to be programmed to the patient’s hearing ability, and the fine-tuning may take repeated trips to the audiologist or hearing healthcare provider.

Even the most advanced hearing aids will not restore hearing 100 percent, and may need auditory training to help a brain process sounds. There is no vision training to wear glasses.


Myth

Hearing loss is inevitable, especially with age, and can’t be prevented

Fact

Hearing loss has many causes, including genetics, certain medications, and exposure to loud noises. Smoking and diabetes can also lead to hearing impairment.

Despite its prevalence among seniors, there is some debate as to whether hearing loss is an inevitable outcome of aging. “Auditory acuity appears to be preserved in quiet, primitive societies,” says Daniel Fink, M.D., who cites studies of the Mabaan population in the Sudan, published in 1962, and one of Easter Island in 1983. Like skin damage from sun exposure, the cumulative effect of today’s loud societies has led to a greater incidence of hearing loss that becomes increasingly apparent over a lifetime—that is, in older adults. Noise exposure is the most preventable cause of hearing loss.


Myth

I don’t need hearing aids since my hearing is mostly fine.

Fact

When you have a hearing loss in some frequencies and not others, it is easier to dismiss it as unimportant. Even a mild hearing loss can adversely affect your cognitive capabilities, work, home, and social life. Fortunately, the brain’s neuroplasticity means that treating hearing loss allows the brain to relearn how to hear. Proper hearing aid use correlates with improved outlook, mood, mobility, independence, communication, and social interaction.


Some of this content originally appeared in Hearing Health magazine’s Spring 2016 issue.