It takes the average person with hearing loss 5 to 7 years before seeking a qualified professional diagnosis, despite the fact that the warning signs of hearing loss are very clear to others. But are those with hearing loss simply too stubborn to get help? No, actually, and for a couple of specific reasons.
Perhaps you know someone with hearing loss who either denies the problem or refuses to seek professional help, and despite the fact that this is no doubt frustrating, it is very likely that the indications of hearing loss are much more clear to you than they are to them.
Here are the reasons why:
1. Hearing loss is gradual
In most scenarios, hearing loss occurs so gradually over time that the afflicted individual simply doesn’t experience the change. While you would perceive an immediate change from normal hearing to a 25 decibel hearing loss (recognized as moderate hearing loss), you wouldn’t perceive the minor change of a 1-2 decibel loss.
So a slow loss of 1-2 decibels over 10-20 years, while generating a 20-40 total decibel loss, is not going to be noticeable at any given moment in time for those afflicted. That’s why friends and family are virtually always the first to recognize hearing loss.
2. Hearing loss is often partial (high-frequency only)
The majority of hearing loss scenarios are classified as high-frequency hearing loss, which means that the impacted person can still hear low-frequency background sounds normally. Although speech, which is a high-frequency sound, is strenuous for those with hearing loss to follow, other sounds can usually be heard normally. This is why it’s quite common for those with hearing loss to state, “my hearing is fine, everyone else mumbles.”
3. Hearing loss is not addressed by the family doctor
Individuals struggling with hearing loss can attain a mistaken sense of well-being after their annual physical. It’s quite common to hear people say “if I had hearing loss, my doctor would have told me.”
This is of course not true because only 14% of physicians routinely screen for hearing loss during the annual checkup. Not to mention that the main symptom for most cases of hearing loss — difficulty understanding speech in the presence of background noise — will not present itself in a calm office atmosphere.
4. The burden of hearing loss can be shared or passed on to others
How do you manage hearing loss when there’s no cure? The answer is straight forward: amplify sounds. The issue is, while hearing aids are the most effective at amplifying sounds, they are not the only way to accomplish it — which individuals with hearing loss quickly find out.
Those with hearing loss oftentimes turn up the volume on everything, to the detriment of those around them. Television sets and radios are played exceedingly loud and people are made to either shout or repeat themselves. The individual with hearing loss can manage just fine with this method, but only by passing on the burden to friends, family members, and colleagues.
5. Hearing loss is pain-free and invisible
Hearing loss is mostly subjective: it cannot be diagnosed by visible investigation and it usually is not accompanied by any pain or discomfort. If individuals with hearing loss do not recognize a problem, largely due to the reasons above, then they likely won’t take action.
The only method to accurately diagnose hearing loss is through audiometry, which will determine the exact decibel level hearing loss at multiple sound frequencies. This is the only way to objectively say whether hearing loss is present, but the difficult part is needless to say getting to that point.
How to approach those with hearing loss
Hopefully, this essay has manufactured some empathy. It is always exasperating when someone with hearing loss refuses to recognize the problem, but keep in mind, they may legitimately not fully grasp the severity of the problem. Instead of demanding that they get their hearing tested, a more effective method may be to educate them on the elements of hearing loss that make the condition essentially invisible.