Of human’s primary senses, hearing seems to be the one people notice less or refuse to accept when its loss comes on gradually. World Health Organization figures put hearing loss at more than 5 percent of the planet’s population or more than 360 million people. While the majority of those with auditory problems live in low- and middle-income countries where health concerns contribute significantly to the problem, in the U.S., the primary cause is genetic predisposition.
Hearing loss can also be the result of disease or trauma, but more often than not it is simple aging. One out of three people aged 65-75 has some level of hearing problems, and after 75, the ratio increases to one in two. Despite years of research, experts still do not know why this loss occurs, but the ear and auditory system is a finely tuned, delicately balanced mechanism that may simple start to wear out in some people.
Outside factors include occupations such as carpenters, construction workers, miners, factory workers, farmers, and military personnel where subjects are exposed to dangerously loud noise levels over extended periods of time. Certain types of medications can also play a part in hearing loss.
Often, when a person’s hearing declines, he simply compensates, perhaps unknowingly, for the loss. He turns up the volume on the TV or radio, asks people to repeat what they said, or takes other adaptive measures. There seems to be a reluctance by many people to admit they do not hear well. In time, as the loss becomes more profound, it can affect a person’s work and personal relationships, and can be a danger to life and limb.
People have tried to cope with hearing loss with mechanical and later electronic means since the 17th Century when the hearing trumpet was first used, but the first real advances came with the invention of the telephone by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876. Bell’s interests that led to his invention were motivated by the fact that his mother and his wife were both deaf.
The development of transistors in 1948 led to the next leap forward in auditory innovation, and improvements followed over the next 20 years. Then came the world of digital electronics and the microprocessor in the 1970s and hearing aids took another step toward being smaller, lighter, more responsive and less obtrusive.
So where is society now?
“Ninety percent of the people we see cannot be helped by medical procedures, so they turn to hearing devices,” Dr. Amin Musani, a doctor of Audiology with the Hearing and Balance Clinic in Denison, said of hearing aids. “We are now at a point where the newest devices are bluetooth compatible with iPhone and iPad technology, and some Android technology.”
Bluetooth is a wireless technology standard for exchanging data over short distances from fixed and mobile devices. It was invented by Dutch electrical engineer Jaap Haartsen in 1994.
“Bluetooth allows you to stream your phone calls, music, television — whatever you’re watching on that device — directly into the hearing aid,” Musani said. “The advantage is that it’s based on your hearing test, so it makes the sound very crisp and clear compared to various other flat response devices such as you get on the market.”
Musani said most devices offer a free app for one’s phone that lets the device be adjusted.
“The hearing device can be programmed remotely, so we can make the changes here, and shows up on the device and installs them on the hearing aid,” Musani said. “You can control the volume, adjust the wind noise settings and noise reduction, change the bass, middle and treble settings and even find your hearing aid if it has been misplaced.”
Bluetooth itself continues to improve and Musani said the new versions can connect a person’s hearing aids and his phone even if it is in another room. In that scenario, the patient could still receive and talk on the phone as if it were in his hand.
What about the “revolutionary new devices” touted incessantly in ads and on the web?
“Look at them with a grain of salt,” Musani said. “Generally, you get what you pay for, and the consumer needs to look at such claims carefully.”
Although hearing loss is often the result of factors that a patient cannot avoid, there are some general tips to prevent problems from things you can watch.
“Generally, if noise is such that you have to shout to be heard, it is too loud, and you should be using some sort of hearing protections,” Musani said. “It can be ear plugs, ear muffs or a combination, depending on the situation. I tell my patients, if you are mowing the lawn, on a tractor, around gunfire, if you are going to loud concerts, you should be wearing ear protection. Otherwise, over time, it can become much worse.”
Musani also suggested people get their hearing checked on a regular basis. That may be annual or every couple of years depending on your situation, but whatever the timeline, a little prevention is better than the sound of silence.
Edward Southerland is a feature writer for Best of Texoma. For more information, visit BestofTexoma.com or www.facebook.com/BestOfTexoma.