Are day-to-day conversations becoming harder to follow? It may be time to invest in your aural health
Hearing is a fundamental part of daily life. It affects our ability to communicate with others, interact with the world and perceive potential dangers in our surroundings. Without this critical sense, all of the sounds we take for granted – the ones that inform our critical decision making, like approaching cars or blaring fire alarms – disappear into stark silence.
The impacts of hearing loss can be far-reaching, whether the diagnosis is mild or profound. In Australia, the Department of Health estimates that 3.6 million people suffer from some form of hearing loss. Perhaps more astoundingly, they believe that 1.3 million of them live with an aural condition that could have been treated. Why? Because many dismiss the common symptoms of hearing loss.
Thankfully, modern technology has made hearing impairment easier to remedy than ever before. Many diagnoses once considered permanent can now be helped with hearing aids.
Here are five common signs that it may be time to invest in a hearing device.
1. You watch people’s lips to understand what they’re saying
It’s natural to watch a person’s mouth as they speak to clarify what they’re saying – particularly if you’re in a noisy space – but if you struggle to understand any speech without visibility of the speaker’s mouth, your hearing may be compromised.
Often people with hearing difficulties don’t even realise their reliance on lip reading until they’re left to interpret speech alone. Try listening to dialogue without looking at the speaker to test whether you’re able to follow along, or get lost without the visual aid. If you fail to keep up, a simple hearing aid may work wonders in filling the gaps in your comprehension.
2. You find group conversations impossible to follow
Group conversations are stressful at the best of times. From competing sounds to loud voices yelling over one another, it can be tricky for those with hearing loss to follow along and decipher conversation. Add the fact that group catch-ups tend to take place in public spaces with background noise, and you’re in for a challenge.
There are various methods which may ease hearing difficulties, such as moving conversations to a quiet space, or asking your friends to speak slowly, but these are stop-gaps and not long-term solutions.
3. You need the volume up loud or subtitles on to watch TV
Watching television can be particularly challenging for those with hearing difficulties. Of course, higher volume and closed captions can ease the frustration of missing key dialogue on screen, but it hardly matches the experience of comprehending speech in key scenes as they unfold.
The depletion of hearing is one obvious reason why you may struggle to watch television without subtitles, but there are other contributing factors, too. These days, movies and television programs are heavily produced and typically feature loud background music to build suspense or create a mood. If the volume of background music is too high or the frequencies too similar, it’s common for all sounds to blend into indistinguishable noise – particularly for those with hearing difficulties.
Thankfully, hearing aids can correct this problem for many people and bring enjoyment back to the living room.
4. You find long conversations draining
One common, yet often overlooked symptom of hearing loss is the feeling of fatigue after long periods of conversation. Studies in this subsector of audiology are relatively limited, but preliminary results by leading experts, Professor Fred Bess and Benjamin W. Y. Hornsby, suggest that ‘sustained speech-processing demands in a noisy environment,’ can result in significant fatigue – both in children and adults.
If you find yourself overcome by tiredness after a long day of listening, it’s probably an indicator that you’d benefit from a hearing aid product.
5. You struggle to hear people on the phone
Do phone calls conjure feelings of dread in the pit of your stomach? For many with hearing loss, whether diagnosed or not, speaking on the phone is one of the biggest challenges they face day-to-day. While it’s easy to chalk this difficulty up to phone volume or line clarity, there’s a scientific reason behind it.
Current mobile phone technology transmits between 300–3,400 hertz – just a fragment of the audible sound spectrum. However, parts of human speech can contain much higher frequencies. Any sounds which sit above that range may therefore not be transmitted. Linda Kozma-Spytek – a senior research audiologist at Gallaudet University – explained to the Philadelphia Inquirer that those with regular hearing can “fill in the gaps subconsciously,” while others with hearing difficulties may not be able to discern between words which sound similar.
So, if your phone volume is cranked up to maximum but you still find yourself asking ‘pardon?’ everytime you take a call, it might be time for an audiology appointment.