Ask your spouse or partner if it might be time for a check-up.
If it soundes like everyone around you is always mumbling, it may be a sign that you need a hearing test.
Most people tend to ignore clues that their hearing isn’t what it used to be. But your spouse or partner may be fully aware of the change. “I see this all the time. Often the person with hearing loss is not the first to realize the problem. It’s a family member or friend who’ll bring the issue to the person’s attention,” says Dr. Felipe Santos, a hearing specialist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary.
There are a number of early warning signs of hearing loss. Run this list by your significant other and see if any of the descriptions ring true.
You don’t hear questions. “You may frequently ask people to repeat themselves,” says Dr. Santos.
You think everyone around you is mumbling. “You may think people don’t speak clearly or that they have soft voices,” says Dr. Santos.
You don’t hear loud sounds. “You are missing sounds that others hear, like an alarm, a doorbell, or a TV. Or maybe you always turn up the TV volume,” says Dr. Santos.
You need to see someone’s face to have a conversation. “It may be necessary to focus on faces, expressions, and lip movements in order to communicate better,” says Dr. Santos.
You’re having disagreements. “You may be frequently missing words someone says, or confusing the words, or not responding to someone because you didn’t hear the person, leading to misunderstandings,” says Dr. Santos.
You can’t hear when there’s background noise. “People around you can hear each other in a busy restaurant, or if there’s music playing, but you can’t hear what others are saying in that environment,” says Dr. Santos.
What you should do
If you or your partner has noticed one or more of these early warning signs, Dr. Santos recommends that you speak with your primary care physician. Hearing loss can be caused by aging, infection, abnormal bone growth, earwax buildup, or a tumor. If your doctor suspects your hearing loss is linked to aging (which is the most common cause of hearing loss) or nerve cell damage from exposure to loud noise, you’ll need a hearing test to determine the type and severity of loss. Your doctor may order a hearing test directly or refer you to an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat specialist).
“A visit will typically include a medical history, an ear exam, and a hearing test performed by an audiologist,” says Dr. Santos.
“Based on the results of your exam and test, your doctor and audiologist will counsel you about whether a hearing aid will improve your ability to hear and communicate, or whether there are other options. Not everyone with hearing loss is a candidate for a hearing aid, which turns up the volume, but can’t improve the clarity of sound you hear,” says Dr. Santos.
Other options for better hearing include behavioral strategies (such as standing closer to people when they talk, talking in well-lighted areas so you can see the face of someone you’re talking with, and sitting closer to a stage if you’re in an audience), radio systems that transmit sound to an earpiece or headphones, or surgical implants for more serious hearing loss.
Not your father’s hearing aid
Hearing aids have come a long way since the days of the cumbersome and obvious devices your parents had to use. That’s thanks to improvements in miniaturization and circuitry development.
Most hearing aids are small and are barely visible when you wear them. They may be worn over the ear or inside the ear canal. And features today are high-tech, such as digital sound that can be programmed and adjusted using a smartphone, the ability to wirelessly connect your hearing aid right to your smartphone for calls or for listening to music, and noise reduction that automatically adjusts to your surroundings.
Some insurance plans pay for the devices. Medicare generally does not. Prices for hearing aids vary widely. “The average price per hearing aid is between $1,100 and $2,800. Some consumer surveys list the average price paid for a pair of hearing aids between $1,800 and $6,800. It’s a lot of money to spend, so remember that by law you have a trial period, during which time you can decide if the hearing aid is right for you, or get your money back,” says Dr. Santos.