Think back to the last time you had to ask someone to repeat themselves. Maybe there was a great deal of background noise. Maybe they were speaking too softly.
Or maybe you are suffering from mild to moderate hearing loss.
Many people struggle with the same questions once they begin to notice a decline in their hearing. “Am I losing my hearing? What level of hearing loss requires a hearing aid? How effective are hearing aids? Do I need a hearing aid for mild hearing loss? Can mild hearing loss be corrected?”
The answers may surprise you! Hearing loss isn’t limited to extreme cases. A recent study found that over 700,000 New Zealanders are affected by hearing loss.
If you feel you might be one of those people, read on to find out if a hearing aid can help you.
Levels of Hearing Loss
The lowest level of hearing loss is “mild“. Mild hearing loss indicates people have difficulty hearing speech below 26 to 40 dB.
Mild loss is particularly noticeable when someone is talking while not facing you or talking to a child who speaks softly (and in the higher frequencies).
One might think that mild means it has little to no effect on a person’s daily life, but listening fatigue, falling behind at school or work, and feelings of isolation aren’t mild at all.
In childhood, it’s easier to notice when someone can’t hear the teacher in class. As a person enters adulthood, hearing loss is often just brushed off as something that happens to us as we get older. There’s growing evidence to suggest doing something sooner rather than later is a good idea.
One level up is “moderate” hearing loss. A person with hearing loss in this range has trouble hearing speech softer than 41 to 55 dB. You might realise you can’t hear the phone ringing or have trouble understanding someone when they’re talking at an average volume in the presence of background noise.
“Moderately severe” hearing loss is the next level, where hearing normal conversation is a real struggle. Any conversation under 56 to 70 dB is not loud enough to be heard.
Remember, a normal face-to-face conversation takes place at about 60 dB.
You can’t hear conversational speech with “severe” hearing loss, and the threshold is 71 to 90 dB.
“Profound” hearing loss caps off the spectrum, meaning the inability to hear speech under 91 or more decibels.
When you have a full diagnostic hearing test, your hearing ability is mapped on an audiogram, which provides you with your level of hearing loss.
The Prevalence of Hearing Loss in Young People
The natural aging process is a cause of hearing loss common to us all – called presbycusis. As a result, many people think hearing loss is a disease for older people. However, this isn’t the case.
Young people are arguably increasingly susceptible to hearing loss in a world where its estimated noise pollution doubles or triples every 30 years. The use of smartphones, earbuds, and headphones is no doubt taking a toll.
A study on the social and economic costs of hearing loss in New Zealand found that many younger people were affected. 21,480 out of 600,144 people with mild hearing loss were between the ages of 0 and 20.
This prevalence isn’t confined to one country; the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that 34 million children worldwide suffer from hearing impairment.
Babies and young children are most at risk from complications at birth, genetic causes, certain diseases, recurring or chronic ear infections, medical treatment with particular drugs, and exposure to excessive noise.
The WHO also reports 1.1 billion young people aged between 12–35 years are at risk of hearing loss from exposure to noise in recreational settings. For example, excessive use of headphones and earbuds, going to loud concerts and bars or playing music in a band are all scenarios where damage to your hearing is a distinct possibility.
The point is, your age is not the deciding factor on whether or not you have a hearing loss. To be sure, go and get a hearing test.
You can start with an online test and then graduate to an in-person hearing screening. Both are free (at least at Ear Health) and only take a few minutes of your time.
Depending on the hearing screening results, you might require a full diagnostic hearing test which takes about an hour to complete and costs about $90. You will receive documentation about your hearing ability at the end of the full diagnostic test, including an audiogram.
Upgrading From “In-The-Drawer” Hearing Aids
A common form of listening device is the ITD, or “in-the-drawer” style. This model features outdated technology that causes users to experience annoying feedback whistles, improper fitting, and a hearing experience that doesn’t meet their individual needs. As a result, the user threw them in a drawer and resigned to the idea that hearing aids don’t work for them.
ITD hearing aids lead some people to believe they must settle for a lower quality of life. So how can this problem be addressed?
Back in 1999, MarkeTrak V surveyed hearing aid users. The survey asked people to write a letter detailing whether they wore their hearing aids and, if they didn’t, explain what they saw as the problem. More than 16% of users said they had decided not to use their hearing aids at all, citing not only whistling feedback but improper fit and high cost as the reasons.
Compare that to a 2019 MarkeTrak10 survey that found 79% of hearing aid users wore them daily, along with other significant improvements in satisfaction rates. These improvements include digital microchip technology that amplifies sounds according to a user’s unique hearing prescription.
Other advancements in the last 20 years include Bluetooth capability, smartphone apps, remote controls, rechargeable batteries, feedback (whistling) elimination and wind noise reduction.
In terms of technology, hearing aids have advanced significantly, and they are much less likely to end up in your sock drawer.
Aesthetically, they are also more appealing, with smaller components, and even high-powered hearing aids are now small and discreet.
Do You Need a Hearing Aid for Mild Hearing Loss?
The truth is that even people with mild hearing loss are candidates for a hearing aid. The same study that found statistics on how many young people are affected also showed that those with mild hearing loss were in the overwhelming majority. Over 600,000 out of 880,350 overall cases in New Zealand alone reported mild hearing loss.
Treating the problem with a hearing aid while still in the mild range will help you maintain your quality of life and stay engaged in social situations.
Early intervention has many potential health benefits, including:
- Improved relationships through maintaining or improving intimacy, communication and independence.
- Enhanced career prospects by being able to sustain communication ability in a broad range of workplace scenarios.
- Keeping the mind stimulated and possibly decreasing the risk of cognitive decline, brain shrinkage and dementia.
- Minimising the risk of depression and other mental illnesses that may result from the isolation, loneliness and stress experienced with untreated hearing loss.
So if you’ve been finding yourself wondering why people won’t stop muttering or have been noticing that some words aren’t coming through clear, don’t hesitate to discuss with one of our audiologists. We can help you address the issue now before it becomes an even bigger problem.