According to the statistics issued by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders ten percent Americans are deaf or hearing impaired. In absolute numbers, that implies that as many as 28 million people have hearing problems. The Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID) estimates that there are nine million people with hearing loss in the UK. A sizeable population is known to be at risk of hearing loss due to continued exposure to hazardous noise levels. Hearing loss has also been identified as the most common birth anomaly.
Very often, the condition remains under diagnosed even in patients who by definition are at high risk for the same.
So the inevitable question comes to mind: is your hearing impaired?
The degree of hearing loss varies across the spectrum: some people have partial hearing loss, which effectively means that they can hear some sounds; while others have complete hearing loss. Some people may have problems hearing in case of excessive background noise. The impairment may be unilateral or bilateral, symmetric or different in both ears. Deafness, by definition, is a complete loss of hearing.
In case you feel that you hear only parts of conversations, or find yourself asking people to repeat what they said once too often; if you have problems hearing the doorbell ring, or find it difficult to hear what's on television, or if you have had friends tell you that you don't seem to hear properly, you should seek a professional opinion. In addition, if you have been exposed to any sounds over 80 decibels for prolonged periods, you are at a high risk for noise induced hearing loss and therefore must get your hearing tested on a regular basis. This includes continued exposure to loud sirens, engines and power tools as well as loud music.
In case you are worried about your baby not responding to loud noises or to the sound of your voice, it is important to rule out a hearing impairment. Even though most babies are screened at birth for the same, the fact that their communication skills aren't developed often makes diagnosis difficult.
Your general physician will probably do a preliminary ear exam and, if necessary, refer you to an audiologist, a health professional who specializes in the diagnosis and management of hearing disorders. You may be referred to an otolaryngologist, a doctor who specializes in ear, nose, and throat problems for further evaluation.
You will need to undergo certain tests to find out if your hearing is impaired, and to what extent. Your specialist will also categorize it is as conductive, sensorineural or mixed hearing loss, and provide you treatment options for the same.
What is essential to remember is that if your friends and family have pointed out to you that you seem to be having problems hearing, or if you think your hearing is impaired, it probably is. The logical course of action thus is to visit your doctor so that your hearing loss can be so managed that it does not affect your quality of life.
Margaret White is a medical correspondent based in Beverly Hills and covers medical issues. In a series of articles she will be covering problems associated with hearing loss and hearing aids. You can take a Free Online Hearing Test at Hearing ABC to check your audio perceptiveness.