Getting hard of hearing? Talk to your doctor, there is help

Published Aug 26, 2018 at 9:00am

Our hearing may decrease as we get older. Over the age of 45, about 15% of us have some difficulty with hearing.

The numbers are much higher for people in their 70s and 80s. For some reason, many of us hate to admit that we can’t hear.

That makes it much more difficult for you or a loved one to deal with the problem. 

It is important to talk to your primary doctor about this. Even if the problem is very mild, the doctor will look in your ears with special attention and may recommend a referral for an Ear, Nose, and Throat doctor (ENT) or for a hearing test. With that done, you and your doctor may decide to wait to take further steps – or it may be time to look into the problem and find some solutions. 

ENT doctors may offer simple treatment like cleaning out the ear canal. It is possible that the specialists may suggest treatment, such as medication or surgery. Talk to your own doctor and see if you both agree to proceed with surgical treatment or medication. 

The ENT doctors may also recommend cochlear implant. In most cases it is best to start with a hearing aid and see how you adjust to it. It your hearing is very poor and a hearing aid has not helped, consider cochlear implant. A device is implanted under the skin on the head, which is connected directly to the inner ear. A small external device is fastened to the head that will allow the patient to hear again. It is still a new procedure and you would need to think through the complications.

In many cases there is not a specific cause for hearing loss. We do know that people who have been exposed to loud noises in their lives are likely to end up deaf. Even if a cause is found, it may not be treatable with medication, surgery or cochlear implant. Once it is determined that no cure is available, you need to consider using a hearing aid.

There are several potential problems with hearing aids. For one thing they are generally not covered by insurance or only partially covered. They cost several thousand dollars. Still they may make a dramatic difference and improve the quality of your life. When an aid is prescribed, and you first try it, you may find it is disturbing. You will hear things differently and you may feel conspicuous wearing a hearing aid.

The best solution is to wear it all the time. If it continues to bother you go back to the clinic that prescribed it. They may make changes to the device or encourage different use of it. Most people who need a hearing aid and wear one regularly, adjust to it and are pleased to hear better.

In the meantime, having some hearing loss is common and it is good to consider ways to hear better or be more comfortable. With or without a hearing aid, tell close friends that you are getting hard of hearing. Remind them to speak up, to look at you when they speak. Try to arrange to turn off TV sets or radios, when you are having a conversation. Be open about your problem. Sit close to the person who is speaking. Avoid noisy restaurants.

Get out of the house frequently. Walk in the neighborhood where you feel safe. Consider getting a dog, who will bark when someone is around the house. There are electronic devices that use a loud alarm or bright light when a doorbell rings. There is an adaptation you can use on your phone. 

National Association of the Deaf (NAD) has a website which is very helpful. Also American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) has many resources at their web site. Read there about hearing aids and about many community groups that can be helpful.

Locally there is a Hearing Clinic at Faxton, 675 Bennett St, Utica. Your doctor needs to make a referral. 315-624-5455. They will test your hearing and advise you on ways to proceed. They understand different hearing aid products, telephone adaptors, and safety issues. They understand insurance issues. It is a good place to start, if you are just beginning to look into the problem.

There has been a recent article indicating that deaf people may develop Alzheimer’s earlier than people who can hear. In many ways, being hard of hearing may make life a little more difficult. It is good to gather as much information as you can and then move ahead. Try a hearing aid, using it consistently for a few weeks. Talk to your friends. Be very attentive and politely ask people to repeat themselves. It is important to stay actively involved in the community and with your friends and family.