Hearing loss is one of the most common health issues in the U.S. Some 48 million Americans, including one-third of people over 65, deal with the condition, according to the Hearing Loss Association of America. We sat down with audiologist Crystal Miyake to talk about the importance of treatment.
What causes hearing loss?
Dr. Miyake: Oftentimes it’s just getting older. In other cases, patients are dealing with cancer, chemotherapy, renal disease, and diabetes, which are all associated with hearing loss. I also see premature babies who are now able to survive because of technology, but their hearing doesn’t develop typically. Some young people in their early 20s are developing hearing loss from wearing earbuds.
What can patients expect at an audiology appointment?
Dr. Miyake: We want our appointments to be an educating and empowering experience. This is about letting you know your hearing status and giving you options for how we can help you. We aren’t going to say you have to have hearing aids or you have to do this. The patient helps decide what’s appropriate.
Why is it important to treat hearing loss?
Dr. Miyake: Hearing loss isn’t just about not hearing sounds. It affects you socially and cognitively. It’s associated with depression and anxiety, because peoples’ worlds start shrinking. With older adults, it can feed into cognitive decline and loss of brain mass. Hearing is one of our basic five senses. If you can hear well or the best you can, you can have a more fulfilling life.
What are today’s hearing aids like?
Dr. Miyake: They’re discreet and no one can usually tell that people are wearing them. They can be customized to a patient’s lifestyle, and there’s lots of flexibility for adjustments. But the patient has to be willing to make a long-term commitment to work with the audiologist. It takes patience to adapt to all the sounds you haven’t heard in a long time. We just don’t put hearing aids in and send people on their way. There are lots of visits and counseling. It’s an ongoing dialogue.
Why should you work with a trained audiologist?
Dr. Miyake: We need look at hearing aids the same way we look at knee replacements. Both the quality of the technology and the quality of the provider matter. Audiologists have been trained to diagnose and treat all different types of hearing loss. If you need hearing aids, an audiologist has the clinical experience to make them work. Hearing aids are sophisticated instruments, and it takes many years of practice to successfully treat people using them. You can have the fanciest ones out there, but if they aren’t programmed correctly, they won’t help much.
How can you help patients who are feeling frustrated with their current hearing aids?
Dr. Miyake: All they need to do is come in for a hearing test. We’ll look at the hearing aids, assess them using the equipment we have, and try to maximize the performance before we move to anything else.