Letter: Hearing loss and tinnitus should be addressed ASAP

Graphic by Lori Deaton

World Hearing Day was on March 3. A recent blog by Katherine Bouton notes that The Lancet has reported on the launching of a commission. “Worldwide, more than 1.3 billion people have hearing loss and more than half a billion have disabling hearing loss. We usually think of hearing loss in terms of our own country, where the numbers are large — around 50 million — but minuscule in proportion to the staggering global numbers.”

Bouton writes: “For children, a disabling loss affects their ability to learn to speak, resulting in lower literacy and lower quality of life. For adults, a disabling loss can lead to profound isolation, withdrawal from community and family, an increased risk of psychological illness, and of cognitive decline, including dementia.”

“The new commission,” she says, “will include experts in otology, audiology, neuroscience, engineering, public health and public policy. Half the commissioners will be from low-income and middle-income countries. More than 80 percent of those with hearing loss are from these countries. The(ir) report is expected to be released on World Hearing Day in 2021.”

In the United States, May is designated as Speech and Hearing Month. April lies between these two points that emphasize the importance of hearing loss, including outright deafness, and efforts to treat it. A related condition that can be disabling is tinnitus, the sound individuals hear that others don’t. This is the focus of a meeting offered by the Asheville Chapter of The Hearing Loss Association of America at Care Partners at 10:15 a.m. on April 3. For more, see this paper’s calendar page or email hlasheville@gmail.com. But note: This is just one of several meetings in the year dealing with various aspects of hearing loss. In May, an audiologist will discuss over-the-counter hearing aid offerings that are expected soon to become widely available.

Speech and Hearing Month could usefully have “noise” added into its name, because all with hearing loss struggle with the noise around them, and noise is often the main cause of hearing loss in younger people, due to the battlefield or too-loud music. It’s important to learn how to deal with noise in the best ways known, including use of assistive listening devices. But tinnitus is a particular noise phenomenon. It can be treated, though not cured, and one way is to find a cognitive therapy psychologist with special experience of this condition. The Veterans Administration uses this as part of its effective Progressive Tinnitus Management.

Tinnitus overlaps with hearing loss. Sometimes getting hearing aids will fix it because these two conditions can be closely related. But each exists without the other. Through meetings attuned to various hearing issues or other means like blogs, it’s important to learn, getting to understand what underlies someone’s particular condition and how to manage it. This might be a good time to begin.

Experts say that hearing loss should be addressed as soon as possible. Dealing with it requires brain adaptation that becomes more difficult over time. Infants are tested now, and many who might otherwise be completely deaf receive cochlear implants and are introduced to the hearing world very early on. Usually, they can lead normal lives. So don’t wait. Both hearing loss and tinnitus require the earliest intervention possible to initiate effective treatment.

— Ann Karson

Editor’s note: Carson reports that she can be contacted at akarson57@gmail.com or 828-665-8699.

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