Living with hearing loss can be difficult, frustrating and at times embarrassing. It can happen to anyone, at any age, but it’s more common among older people. In Australia, three out of four people over 70 have some kind of hearing loss.
While you can do a lot to protect your hearing, once it’s damaged, it’s irreversible. But, the good news is there are things you can do to help cope. Whether you’re experiencing hearing loss or concerned for a family member, here’s what you need to know.
Like going grey or gaining a few extra wrinkles, hearing loss doesn’t happen overnight. The loss is gradual, so someone with hearing loss may not realise they have it. Key signs to look out for include:
• Asking people to repeat themselves
• Having trouble following conversations when several people are involved
• The need to keep the volume on the television or radio turned up
• Having trouble hearing everyday sounds such as alarms or microwave beeps.
There are two main types of hearing loss. Sensorineural is hearing loss caused by damage to the inner ear, and conductive is hearing loss caused when the passage of sound is blocked.
Sensorineural hearing loss tends to be caused by one of the following risk factors: age, exposure to loud noises and certain medications, such as aspirin, antibiotics and some cancer drugs. Conductive hearing loss, meanwhile can be caused by a damaged ear drum, outer or middle ear infections or impacted earwax.
If you have trouble hearing, Dr Dimity Dornan, founder of not-for-profit Hear and Say, says the most important thing you can do is let people know you have a hearing problem, especially if you don’t understand what they said.
“It’s a case of making sure people around you know that you have a hearing problem,” she says. “Be brave and upfront about your hearing issue, and ask them to speak clearly and face you when they’re talking.”
Dornan says there are other ways you can manage better if you do have hearing loss, including sitting closer to the source of the sound and sitting with your back to the wall when visiting noisy environments like a restaurant as it will help limit distracting noise from behind you.
If your hearing loss is substantial, your doctor or audiologist may suggest you get a hearing aid. There are various models available, but they don’t come cheap, so you want to ensure you’re making the best decision. Other options include assistive-listening devices, mobile apps, alerting devices, and cochlear implants.
When it comes time to choose a hearing aid, it’s important to shop around according to Specsavers chief audiologist Nick Taylor. “Don’t feel pressured to commit to the first price and allow plenty of time to compare your options,” he says.
The best way to find the most suitable option for you is to ask plenty of questions when you go for your initial appointment. Not sure where to start? Taylor recommends the following:
• What will the total cost be?
• Why are you recommending this hearing aid specifically?
• Are all the recommended features necessary for me? For example, if you lead an active lifestyle and have trouble hearing in loud environments, you may require a more advanced hearing aid.
Another factor to consider is your refund or return options.
“This will help ensure that any free trials or satisfaction guarantees offered is genuine and not sales focused,” Taylor says.
For example, National Hearing Care (NHC) allow customers to exchange their hearing aids within 30 days, or return them for a full refund within 30 days, while at Specsavers a 90-day money-back guarantee on hearing aids applies if you’re not completely satisfied or you’ve simply changed your mind.
Most hearing aids will come with a two or three-year warranty, which offer coverage for repairs, loss and damage, however it’s still super important to consult your hearing specialist about the specifics before buying.
Those with a Pensioner Concession Card, certain Veterans Affairs cards, or receive Sickness Allowance from Centrelink, are eligible for fully-subsidised hearing services, including free hearing aids.
IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.