Anna Gilmore Hall

Executive Director
Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA)

Hearing loss is a major public health issue. About 20 percent of adults in the United States, 48 million, report some degree of hearing loss. Hearing loss impacts people of all ages and professions. It is the third most common physical condition after arthritis and heart disease. However, there is good news. There are tools and resources that can help you and your family live successfully with hearing loss. Yes, your family – because hearing loss impacts not only the individual with hearing loss, but the entire family.

The first step is to educate yourself on hearing loss and find out what you can do to improve your hearing. Don’t waste time thinking it is going to get better or fix itself. Research shows that people often wait 7 to 10 years before they finally take action. That is way too long. Just think what you are missing. Just think what your brain is missing.

How do you know if you have a hearing loss?

  • Do you:
    • Often ask people to repeat what they say?
    • Think others are mumbling?
    • Fail to hear someone talking from behind you?
    • Turn up the volume on the TV or radio?
    • Dread going to noisy parties and restaurants?
    • Have trouble at work during meetings and in noisy environments?

There are many causes of hearing loss, but one of the major causes is noise exposure. Tiny hair cells in the ear are damaged when assaulted by loud noise. Once those hair cells are destroyed they cannot be replaced or repaired. Noise-induced hearing loss is completely preventable, so take immediate steps to protect your hearing. Other causes of hearing loss include:

  • Some medications (ototoxic)
  • Loss of blood supply (vascular disease)
  • Virus or other disease
  • Meniere’s disease
  • Autoimmune disease
  • Otosclerosis
  • Genetic causes
  • Aging
  • Head and ear trauma

Health conditions associated with hearing loss:

  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Increased risk of falling
  • Numerous recent studies show an association between hearing loss and dementia. This does not prove a cause and effect and it is unclear whether intervention reduces the risk.
  • Social isolation
  • Depression

What to do if you suspect you have hearing loss

See an ear, nose and throat doctor (otolaryngologist or otologist) or your primary care physician to see if you have a hearing loss and to rule out any medical condition. You may also choose to go to an audiologist directly without seeing a doctor. In this case you would need to sign a waiver, because currently the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that you see a physician first. If your doctor rules out a medical condition and tells you that you have “nerve deafness” or sensorineaural hearing loss, find an audiologist and get a complete hearing evaluation.

There are many types of hearing aids that vary in cost, design, and features. Hearing aids are covered by some private insurance plans, company plans, the Federal Employee Health Benefit Plan, and Tricare.  Some plans cover hearing testing, but not the hearing aids. Medicaid covers hearing aids for children in some states. Medicare does not cover hearing aids.

Hearing loss and the workplace

It is estimated that about 20 percent of today’s workforce is working with a hearing loss and that is expected to rise as baby boomers stay in their jobs longer, and younger people (especially veterans) with hearing loss enter the workforce. This provides challenges to employees and employers. While people in the workplace with the mildest hearing losses show little or no drop in income compared to their normal hearing peers, as the hearing loss increases, so does the reduction in compensation.

A 2009 study by the Better Hearing Institute found that untreated hearing loss resulted in a loss of income per household ranging from $12,000 to $30,000 per year, depending on the type and severity of the hearing loss. That is a loss to society of $26 billion in unrealized federal tax revenue and an estimated aggregate yearly income loss of $176 billion due to underemployment. People with untreated hearing loss are nearly twice as likely to be unemployed as their peers who have their hearing treated. The implications for individuals, families, employers and society, are significant. This trend is costing society and those with hearing loss millions of dollars annually in lost revenue, productivity, taxable revenue, and wasted skills and experience in the workplace.

Anyone who has any degree of hearing loss deals with a number of unknown issues and faces anxieties when it comes to finding a job or being successful on the job. Again, there are solutions for employers and employees that can keep highly-skilled and experienced employees in their jobs and careers.

"It is estimated that about 20 percent of today’s workforce is working with a hearing loss and that is expected to rise as baby boomers stay in their jobs longer, and younger people (especially veterans) with hearing loss enter the workforce."

Understanding hearing assistive technology (HAT)

Unlike the situation years ago, nowadays just about everyone with any type or degree of hearing loss can be helped with some kind of hearing assistive technology – including  hearing aids, cochlear implants, other implantable devices, assistive listening devices, alerting devices or captioning speech to text. If you are told there is nothing you can do and you should just learn to live with the hearing loss, seek a second opinion.

Even if you get a hearing aid or cochlear implant, chances are you are going to need to use other assistive hearing devices to get the best results. Hearing aids and cochlear implants are not like glasses and won’t restore your hearing to the level you had before your loss – but they can dramatically improve it. For example, hearing in a crowded noisy restaurant may still be a challenge for you. You might need to use an assistive listening device (ALD) to aid in understanding. These include something as simple as a Pocket Talker with a directional mic attached to a neck loop, all the way to more sophisticated solutions such as Bluetooth microphones paired to a receiver keyed to your hearing aid, or even an FM system. You will need to learn about how telecoils in hearing aids can be a life saver when you go to places of worship or theaters that are looped and the sounds from the stage or speaker are transmitted directly to your hearing aid. Ah...the wonders of technology! For more information about assistive technology, click here. For a directory of places equipped with hearing assistive technology, click here.

"People with untreated hearing loss are nearly twice as likely to be unemployed as their peers who have their hearing treated."

The other exciting news is that we live in a world where emerging technology is turning the world of hearing aids and other assistive devices upside down. There are many new and exciting improvements to products and cutting-edge products being developed. It is a great challenge and opportunity for consumers and will continue to escalate. HLAA can help provide you with tools to understand this confusing world and help you make informed choices.
Hearing loss is not easy, but it can be managed. People like Derrick Coleman can live successfully with hearing loss and so can you.

Anna Gilmore Hall