Family gathering

Why You Can't Ignore Age-related Hearing Loss

December 15, 2016

Holiday gatherings can make hearing loss more noticeable. Otolaryngologist and hearing specialist Matthew Kircher, MD, answers common questions about what to do if you or someone you care about is having a harder time hearing.

It seems like every year my parents’ hearing gets worse. They think it is just part of growing old. How can I tell if their hearing loss is serious enough to discuss with them?

Simply ask your family member how they feel they are hearing. Ask them if they struggle to understand conversation in background noise. They may do fine communicating one on one in a quiet environment, but find great difficulty holding a conversation in a crowded restaurant or a large family gathering.

When hearing loss approaches even the mild range, patients will sometimes notice difficulty understanding conversation in background noise.

My mother doesn’t like to make a fuss about her health or go to the doctor unless she’s very ill. What can I say to assure her that losing her hearing is serious?

Hearing loss in the elderly can be a significant source of increased social isolation, depression and worsening dementia. Elderly loved ones with hearing loss should be encouraged to pursue hearing rehabilitation for all of these reasons.

My father thinks turning up the TV works better than wearing a hearing aid. Are hearing aids better than they used to be? How have they changed?

Today’s hearing aids are small, compact digital devices that are usually small enough to be barely noticeable. Also, today’s hearing aids can be connected to mobile devices, such as a cell phone, so that phone calls can be routed directly into the hearing aid.

Are there other options than wearing a device?

There are implantable hearing devices intended for certain types of hearing loss. An otologist or ear specialist would be best able to recommend one of these devices for a patient.

If we agree that their hearing should be checked out, what do we do?

The best place to start is with your primary care physician. In many cases, the patient may need to be referred by their primary care physician to an otolaryngologist or audiologist so their insurance plan can cover the appointment and/or hearing testing.

I’m only in my 50s, but I’m not sure I hear as well as I used to. Aren’t I too young to be losing my hearing?

No. We all lose hearing as we age, some at a faster rate than others. Age-related hearing loss is usually slowly progressive but each person will have their own rate of hearing decline.

However, if you experience sudden hearing loss, contact your doctor. If your job exposes you to very loud noise have your hearing checked regularly.

Matthew Kircher, MD, is an otolaryngologist whose expertise includes hearing loss, deafness, ear drum perforation, cochlear implantation and traditional and laser ear surgery. Dr. Kircher sees patients at Loyola Outpatient Center in Maywood and Loyola Center for Health at Burr Ridge.

Tips to Protect Your Hearing

  • While aging is the most common cause of hearing loss, excessive noise also can damage your hearing.
  • If your work exposes you to continuous loud noise, invest in the proper equipment to protect your hearing.
  • Carry earplugs when attending loud events.
  • When using earbuds or headphones, keep the volume below 85 decibels and take breaks from them.
  • With headphones, do not turn up the volume to hear over loud noise.

Loyola's experienced team of otolaryngologistsaudiologistsskilled nurses and caring staff provide a full range of services and progressive therapy to treat hearing loss and deafness in patients of all ages. Hearing Center services are offered at Loyola Outpatient Center in Maywood and our centers for health in Burr Ridge, Homer Glen, Oakbrook Terrace, Park Ridge and Wheaton.