Hearing Loss: Symptoms and Solutions

Contributed By Dr. Susan O’Brien, AuD, and Dr. Pankaj Gupta, MD of Wake Ear, Nose and Throat Specialists in Cary

“What was that, honey?” Many of us have wondered about our spouse. Is it selective hearing or true hearing loss?

Patients often seek out their doctor complaining that sound seems muffled, speech is not clear, or that others are mumbling. They are not unique in this problem; about 10 percent of the population in the United States has hearing loss, according to a survey in 2004 by the Better Hearing Institute. Hearing loss affects people of all ages, but tends to be more common as we age.

The incidence of hearing loss is one out of 14 for generation Xers, one out of six for baby boomers and three out of 10 for the population age 60 and older, according to the MarkeTrak Survey 2004.

Hearing loss, due to age, is called presbycusis, which is a permanent hearing loss caused most often by the deterioration of the outer hair cells of the cochlea in the inner ear. Additional factors, such as previous exposure to noise, ototoxic drugs (medicines that damage the inner ear) and genetics can increase the degree of hearing loss and affect the age at which it is acquired. Not all hearing loss is permanent, and some types can be medically treated. As we age we may start to notice an increasing impact of decreased hearing on our lives.

Younger patients are often diagnosed with hearing loss, likely related to iPods and cell phones. Hearing impaired individuals can suffer from depression or feel isolated and disconnected from their loved ones. They can even be in danger if their hearing loss is severe enough to miss alerting signals in their environment. These individuals are fatigued from having to concentrate very hard in order to hear things that most of us take for granted. Family gatherings, religious services and social engagements that used to be fun are now hard work and exhausting.

Hearing impaired individuals often stop participating in activities they used to love because of their difficulty with communication. They may often become dependent on family members to help them hear. This can put a lot of stress on the individuals closest to the hearing impaired person. They are often the first ones to notice the hearing difficulty. Individuals with hearing loss may try to avoid or deny the problem.

When a patient seeks help for hearing loss, it can be a positive event for the patient and the family. With digital technology, there is so much more available, even in comparison to five years ago.

If you suspect you or a loved one may have difficulty hearing it is always a good idea to be medically evaluated by an ear, nose and throat physician. ENT physicians specialize in treating medical conditions of the ear. The physician will evaluate you to determine if you have a problem that can be treated easily. Untreated medical conditions can potentially cause damage to the ear. After the exam, the ENT physician may suggest that you see an audiologist for a hearing test. This evaluation will determine the type and degree of hearing loss.

The hearing test will help the physician evaluate if you have a treatable medical issue and whether you are a candidate for amplification. If you can benefit from hearing aids, an appointment can be set up with the audiologist to determine your hearing needs and the type of amplification that will best improve your quality of life. Hearing aids allow for more social interaction and a better quality of life.

Dr. Pankaj Gupta is a board-certified ear, nose and throat physician for adults and children. He has additional training in minimally invasive techniques for common ENT procedures. Dr. Susan O’Brien is available for hearing consultations and is experienced in evaluating all issues relating to hearing. The practice offers premier hearing aid technology to patients and is at 600 New Waverly Place, Suite 201 in Cary. Call (919) 851-5636 for a complete evaluation of your ENT and hearing concerns today and visit www.wakeent.com.

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