DR. ALEXANDRA TARVIN – CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW?
With almost 38 million people in America having some degree of hearing loss, it is more prevalent than cancer or diabetes. While some people are born with hearing impairment, most will acquire it from one or more risk factors. Some risk factors include: type 2 diabetes (2-3 times more likely to develop hearing loss), cardiovascular disease, chronic kidney disease, occupational and recreational noise exposure, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), and family history of hearing loss. Individuals that have more than one risk factor are at an even higher risk of developing hearing loss.
It is routine to have your teeth checked every six months and your eyes around once a year, why does the average person wait until something is wrong (and then some) to have their hearing checked? When an individual finally addresses their hearing issues, they have waited an average of seven to ten years from the first time they noticed difficulty —this is unacceptable. This statistic has not changed in decades; nor the fact that only 25-30% of people that need hearing help actually seek it.
The US government considers hearing healthcare a critical part of overall American health and has included objectives for improving the statistics as laid out in www.HealthyPeople.gov. It is recommended that every individual over the age of 50 should have a hearing screening if not a full diagnostic evaluation to establish a baseline.
While many people say to me, “my hearing is great”, we do not truly know that until it is measured and confirmed. I may think my blood sugar is fine because I have not been diagnosed with diabetes, yet we still have regular blood work to learn about what we can’t see. We can’t see hearing loss. We can all accept it is better to be proactive rather than reactive and our hearing —one of our 5 senses —one of the ways our body receives information from the outside world is a big deal!
There are many reasons why people ignore their hearing concerns. This includes the stigma of feeling old, cost, vanity, denial, confusion in the marketplace, etc. A big reason is that hearing loss is invisible and painless. As humans, we tend to take the path of least resistance so if it is not obvious to us than it must not exist. Well, only 50% of individuals with hearing loss are older than 65; therefore, half of all people with hearing loss are not seniors.
Signs of Auditory Loss
I have had several patients that came in to establish a baseline, and we diagnose significant hearing loss. They experience better hearing with properly-fit hearing aids, and their life is changed. They did not know anything was wrong until it was better! We don’t know until we know. It is true, however, that it is more common as we age because we have more years under our belts for all of the risk factors to develop and accumulate.
- Asking others to repeat
- Difficulty understanding even if only in background noise
- Tinnitus (chronic ringing, buzzing, humming in the ears)
- TV, radio, and phone volume increased
- Social withdrawal due to inability to participate and communicate well
- Exhaustion after attending social events
- Perception that others are mumbling
From an emotional and quality of life perspective, maximizing your hearing and re-engaging with your loved ones will help you live a fulfilled life! From a health and scientific perspective, hearing loss in middle age has been identified as the highest risk factor for dementia. Social isolation and increased rates of depression are likely correlated with this finding. Decreased hearing with diminished understanding is no longer thought to be a passive sense that deteriorates as we age that can be ignored. If there is anything you can do to keep your brain as young and healthy as possible, do not deny yourself of that. If you or someone you know is experiencing difficulty with their hearing, please refer them to an audiologist to be evaluated.
Hearing Loss Treatment
Hearing aids are the proper treatment for 95% of individuals with hearing loss and they have come a very long way. Now-a-days, they are truly revolutionary and not only improve one’s ability to communicate but allow for Bluetooth streaming, fitness tracking, fall detection, rechargeability, and much more to come. The technology will only serve someone best if it is properly selected and fit with real ear measurements which validate the fitting. Unfortunately, this measurement is not performed by every hearing healthcare provider so one should inquire about this when selecting their provider.
Proper follow-up and maintenance is also critical to a patient’s success. Traditionally, there was one service model for receiving this treatment —a “bundled” model where you pay for everything up front. The “unbundled” service model is becoming more popular which allows for patients to pay for the technology and initial services then “pay as you go” for appointments and supplies moving forward. This decreases the initial cost of treatment without having to sacrifice quality of care or service for budget.
This is where some of the confusion in the marketplace stems from. There are so many ads in the paper and on TV that it is very difficult for consumers to know what is best. The decision is always yours to make but an informed decision may seem hard to come by.
It is critical that your audiologist is educating you about your status, your options, and presenting realistic expectations based on the results of your hearing evaluation, needs, lifestyle, and their experience. Hearing aids are only a piece of the communication puzzle and the appropriate counseling, follow-up, and aural rehabilitation will ensure your success. This is an investment and emotional decision and should be approached with care. Purchasing hearing aids online, getting a “free test” next to the jewelry section at the big box store, and purchasing over-the-counter amplifiers do not allow you to be taken care of the way you deserve nor set you up for success with better hearing.
Preventing Auditory Loss
While 95% of hearing loss is permanent and therefore irreversible, that does not mean that we cannot prevent more hearing loss (within our control) or spread the importance of preventing it all together. It is critical to wear properly fit hearing protection around excessive sounds including lawn mowers, firearms, power tools, etc. Foam earplugs may work well for some but if it is not completely inserted into the ear canal, they are not effective. If you are exposed to loud noise for your job or a regular hobby, I recommend investing in custom earplugs.
They are made from impressions of your ears and fit you like a puzzle piece. They are comfortable, long-lasting, and they can be made for a variety of uses including full protection, high-fidelity music/concert plugs, motorcycle helmets, sleep, and much more.
For shooters and hunters, the best option is custom digital hearing protection which allows for regular communication and compresses sound with high volume input like a gunshot.
If you would like to help audiology healthcare make progress within Medicare so we are better able to serve you and improve access, you can learn more and contact your legislature at http://18×18.org/. For more information on how we hear, hearing loss, tinnitus, etc. please visit our website www.ElevateAudiology.com.
About Dr. Alexandra Tarvin, Au.D.
Dr. Tarvin is Board Certified in Audiology. She received her Doctor of Audiology degree from the University of South Florida, her Bachelor’s in Communication Sciences and Disorders from the University of Florida, and completed her residency at a not-for-profit audiology institute in Louisville, Kentucky where she practiced all audiology specialties and focused on adult diagnostics and treatment.
She is a twice published researcher completing her audiology doctoral project, entitled Acceptable Noise Level and Hearing Aid Noise Reduction, which has also been presented at multiple conferences.
Dr. Tarvin is a Certified Fellow of the Tinnitus Practitioners Association specializing in tinnitus and sound sensitivity, has her Certificate of Clinical Competence by the American Speech-Language and Hearing Association, volunteers as Technology Chair and former President of the South Carolina Academy of Audiology, is a fellow of the American Academy of Audiology, and a committee member of the Academy of Doctors of Audiology. She is originally from Queens, New York and grew up in central Florida. She lives in Greenville, South Carolina and started her own practice Elevate Audiology – Hearing and Tinnitus Center in Easley, South Carolina in March of 2018.
Learn more about hearing loss by viewing these videos:
What is hearing loss video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9zie0GrFnWY
Ways to help a loved one with hearing loss: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2MW4qQ4QmuQ
Diabetes and hearing loss: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YRHBhdLyUPM