10 Ways to Tell You've Started to Experience Hearing Loss

Closeup photo of volume decibel dial

 The story often goes like this:

“She mumbles.”

“He doesn’t listen.”

“She talks to me from the other room and expects me to hear.”

“He hears what he wants to.”

Although interactions like this between spouses and family members in my office are sometimes funny and in good humor, many times, they are more serious and filled with frustration. Loss of hearing can cause difficulty communicating with friends and family, but has also been linked to much more serious problems such as social withdrawal, loneliness, fatigue, stress, as well as cognitive decline, dementia and even Alzheimer’s Disease.So what are the most common signs that you might be losing some hearing?

1. TINNITUS

Tinnitus or “ringing-in-the-ears” is most often a sign of damage in the inner ear. Dysfunction of the nerve endings in the inner ear, called hair cells, often causes a disruption in the normal firing patterns of the hearing nerve. This causes people with tinnitus to perceive an internal ringing or buzzing sound.

2. MISUNDERSTANDING WORDS

Many people think that hearing loss is just an absence of sound. More often, hearing loss starts not as a lack of “hearing,” but a lack of understanding words. Loss of hearing for high-pitched sounds takes away our ability to detect consonants like “s”, “sh”, “f”, “th”, and others. So people might confuse words like “fit” and “fifth” or “toss” and “soft”. 

3. TROUBLE HEARING IN BACKGROUND NOISE

Older woman coping with background noise while on the phone

If it is noisy enough, even people with normal hearing have trouble hearing, but if you find yourself missing conversations in restaurants or crowds when others seem to be understanding fine, hearing loss is the likely culprit. We understand speech based on information. If all of the information is there, understanding is pretty easy. When we lose information, understanding requires more focus. Noise takes away information, so does hearing loss. When the two are happening at the same time, it becomes almost impossible to make out a conversation.

4. Difficulty Understanding Children’s Voices

As mentioned previously, hearing loss usually starts in the high-pitches. Thus, children’s voices, especially young children’s voices, tend to be much harder to understand for people with hearing loss. 

5. Turning Up the TV

Television shows and movies often combine background music, sound effects, and other noises that can significantly affect the ability to understand dialogue. In the early stages of hearing loss, single-talker programs, like news or talk shows, are often easier to understand than dialogue in a movie or drama.

6. Missing Out on Sounds of Nature

Many animals make high-pitched sounds that people with hearing loss can’t detect. Birds singing, crickets chirping, or the sound of deer walking through the leaves are often not audible to some with a high-pitched hearing loss.

7. Inability to Tell from Where Sounds Are Coming

Sound localization (being able to tell the direction a sound is coming from) depends on having balanced hearing between the two ears. Neurons in the brainstem compare the levels of sounds arriving at each ear to help us pinpoint a sound’s direction. If there is a loss of hearing in one ear, it is very difficult to figure where sounds originate. 

8. Trouble Understanding in Big Rooms

Large rooms, especially those with hard floors, tall ceilings, and windows, create reverberation or echo. Reverberation causes sounds to bounce around and arrive repeatedly at the listener’s ear. Trying to hear a speaker in a large open room or understand the TV in a room with lots of reverberation can be very difficult for someone with hearing loss. Reverberation basically creates its own background noise by the primary signal (TV for example) arriving at the person’s ear, then a split second later, an echo of that signal arrives. People with hearing loss have a harder time in reverberation because hearing loss takes away information and reverberation does too.

9. Needing Visual Cues

When we start to lose hearing, we tend to compensate. One the biggest ways we compensate is by looking at the person who is speaking. Visual cues (lip-reading, gestures, expressions, eye-contact, etc.) add 20% to how much we understand. Understanding fine in a face-to-face conversation, but missing out when you can’t see the talker, may be an indication of hearing loss.

10. Missing Numbers, Names, Addresses

Much like the use of visual cues, we use context to help us fill in blanks that may be missing due to hearing loss. Contextual cues allow us to figure out words that we don’t hear clearly based on the topic or the other words in a sentence. For example, if we were talking about football, and I said, “I can’t believe he fumbled.” You would know the word was “fumbled” and not “jumbled” or “rumbled” based on the topic.

Even if we don’t hear the word clearly, our brains help us figure it out. Names, numbers, and email addresses have very little context and thus can be much harder to figure out if we are not hearing the entire word.

After reading this, if you feel you might be experiencing one, some, or all of these 10 indicators of hearing, please loss consider taking action.  Try keeping track of how many times you ask someone to repeat what they’ve said, any details you’ve missed from a conversation, or the number of times you rely on visual cues.  And, ask your family and friends if they’ve experienced you exhibiting some of the above symptoms on a regular basis.  If so, please consider calling Dr. David Gnewikow, Nashville Audiologist and schedule a free consultation today.  There’s no reason you should go on not hearing life.