Seriously, how is your hearing?

When did you last have your hearing evaluated? It came to my attention recently that our hearing always seems to be relegated to the bottom drawer. Why is that? At a subconscious level, our hearing provides spatial sense about our immediate surroundings, allowing us to function with ease and balance in our environment on a day-to-day basis. On a more urgent level, our hearing keeps our brain alerted to oncoming dangers such as vehicles approaching from behind or intruders in our homes.

Hearing allows us to engage with others; communicate our thoughts and feelings; and maintain clear, understandable speech. Hearing helps us interpret others’ attitudes, emotions and opinions, and participate appropriately in conversations. Hearing contributes so much to our overall well-being.

Good hearing is important enough that newborn hearing screening is required in all 50 states. A newborn’s hearing is screened to determine whether hearing loss might contribute to any developmental delays. It makes sense, right? So when that same child gets to be kindergarten age, a vision evaluation and physical assessment is required for them to enter school, but no such measurement is required of hearing. It seems that the only time a child’s hearing is assessed is when their speech or language is not developing as expected. And by then, it might be too late.

Adults very rarely have any type of hearing evaluation unless they are exposed to hazardous noise in the workplace. And then, the only reason an adult may have a screen is because their employer is required to monitor their hearing. Annual physicals usually do not include any objective measure of hearing. A medical physical might include a questionnaire, but a questionnaire is not a measure of actual hearing health and function.

According to the National Institutes of Health, one in eight people over the age of 12 (13 percent, or 30 million) have hearing loss in both ears. That number begins to rise when one reaches age 55, and it significantly increases above age 70. Hearing loss due to aging is called presbycusis, which can result in a person being cut out of conversation or social activities and can also be accompanied by anxiety and depression. Hearing loss can often have a cascading effect if a person doesn’t even realize what they’re missing out on.

Your hearing is normal if it is between 0–25 decibels across frequencies. Be proactive and know your numbers. Have your hearing evaluated to establish a baseline around age 55 and continue to monitor if any changes are perceived, or every five years. Talk to your doctor or call your local audiologist.

At AUDIO-LOGIC, PC, we would love to confirm and reassure you that your hearing is as good as it should be. Oh, and remember to wear your hearing protection when you mow the lawn!

Nora Fuchs, Doctor of Audiology
Columbus, Nebraska