By Chad Frey Newton Kansan There is a growing problem in the world of health — one many haven’t heard about yet. One some hear about much too late. Hearing loss is a growing problem — and it’s not just a sign of growing older anymore. “We see, in marketing materials, that you are not looking at the typical older person in the photos,” said Carrie Claassen of Ford Hearing Aid & Audiology of Newton. “They are younger people.” And there’s a reason she is seeing that in the marketing materials from equipment vendors wanting to do business with her office. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, 36 million Americans have a hearing loss — this includes 17 percent of the adult population. And while nearly half of those over age 75 have hearing loss, Wichita State University audiologist Ray Hull says hearing loss isn't just a problem for the elderly. "Untreated hearing loss in adults is a growing national epidemic,” Hull said. “Over 36 million adults in the United States have impaired hearing." Claassen said she actually would expect the percentage of those suffering from hearing loss to be higher. Her office works with anyone over the age of six. “It is a reality,” Claassen said. “Children are born with hearing loss. ... We are seeing a shift in age groups.” She said getting a hearing check is a good idea — she talks of “establishing as baseline” to know what issues there might be now, and what could arise later. Hull said an annual check of hearing is something for every age group — not only those 65 and older. "Don't wait until you're 65 to get your hearing checked, because hearing loss is an epidemic among young people, also,” Hull said. “It would be best to have your hearing checked annually just like we have other aspects of us checked. Have it checked by an audiologist, or an ear, nose and throat physician, and you'll know that it's a reliable examination." And for parents, Claassen encourages having children checked periodically as well — especially as technology advances and the world becomes more “plugged in” and noisy. “Kids are susceptible to damage,” Claasen said. “There is a lot more noise exposure than there used to be. ... There are IPods, music players with earbuds. You don’t think about how loud that might be.” For family members who mow the yard, a lawnmower in use for more than 30 minutes could be causing damage to hearing. It would seem there are dangers to hearing all around us, every day. Hull said in addition to noise all around us, there are other factors that can create hearing loss as well. "A primary contributing factor, well, actually there are two. Number one is that of noise. We live in a very noisy society. And number two involves the incidence of cardiovascular disease, or the health of the general cardiovascular health of adults."
Getting a diagnosis A hearing test is the best way to find out if there is hearing loss — and it could clear up a number of other issues as well. Hull said some other disorders are mistaken for hearing loss. "Up to a point, hearing loss is an invisible disability because you can't see it, but a point is reached fairly quickly where it is a visible disability because of the inability to understand what people are saying. People are misdiagnosed, for example, as becoming senile, which can be a definite problem. Or people seem to be confused as they are listening to others." He said there is a reluctance of getting a hearing check — he calls hearing loss a “invisible disability.” Until hearing loss becomes more pronounced — and the need to ask others to constant repeat what they are saying or not being able to hear in a movie theater is the norm —most people with hearing loss simply don’t know what they are missing. That’s why it’s important to have hearing checked. “Don’t be afraid to go get your hearing checked on an annual basis,” Claassen said. “It doesn’t hurt, and it doesn’t take long. It really doesn’t hurt to find out where you are.”
Hearing aids Treating for hearing loss has advanced in recent years — nearly gone are the days of the clunky hearing aid that sits behind a person’s ear. "There are a number of alternatives for people that will assist them if they do experience hearing loss. And it doesn't mean always having to buy hearing aids. There are a number of other alternatives, including television listening devices that offer a great help to people and can resolve some family difficulties when one family member likes to have the television set louder than others would like for them to." Claassen said she has helped people with Blue-tooth devices, and small devices used just to watch television. And even hearing aids are getting smaller and more technologically advanced. “Cosmetically, they are getting smaller,” Claassen said. “Now hearing aids do more than simply amplify sounds.”