When it comes to protecting my hearing, I do a lot of things wrong. I cut my grass with a high-powered mower, use a trimmer and a blower, all without any ear protection. I also work in a noisy environment around police scanners, with TV’s turned up. And I wear an ear piece when I broadcast the news for at least two hours a day.
And now that I'm in my 60s, doctors say there’s a 30 percent chance I have some degree of hearing loss.
“Hearing loss is a very silent disease. It’s not something you can see. It’s not something you can touch,” says Dr. Barry Strasnick, the Director of the EVMS Hearing and Balance Center. Strasnick says the most common way of damaging your hearing is prolonged exposure to noise.
But he adds that even a single instance -- such as a fire cracker or a gunshot -- can be damaging.
“You may be exposed to a loud noise in your 20s and not notice the hearing loss until you’re in your 30s or 40s,” Strasnick says.
To see if I’m one of the millions of people with hearing loss who doesn’t know it, I took a basic hearing test. In a special sound proof room inside EVMS, an audiologist places soft ear phones in each ear.
The test begins with what’s called "Pure Tone Evaluation." A series of pitches are played. Some are high pitches, where hearing tends to be lost first. Others are low pitches. Some are very soft. When I hear the pitches, I raise my hand.
Next is what’s called "Speech Discrimination," which tests how well can I hear and understand words. Ever been to a party where lots of people are talking, and you struggle to pick out a voice? That's me! When I hear a series of simple one-syllable words, I repeat them.
Finally there’s "Bone Conduction," which tests the hearing nerve.
Doctors say everyone should take a basic hearing test. Hearing loss can impact you socially, and limit your job opportunities. Often people wait seven to eight years before they show up for a hearing test. The sooner any hearing loss can be detected, the sooner it can be rehabilitated.
Dr Strasnick says while we love our eye glasses, all colors and sizes, there remains a stigma about hearing aids. They make us look old. Virginia checks the hearing of babies before they leave the hospital. And one thing’s for certain, we live in a noisy world. Loud concerts, earbuds, headphones and cell phones, all take the toll, and not just on those who are older.
Millennials need to heed the warning, now.
“We know that the Baby Boomers as they age, are showing a greater instance of hearing loss. We know that the Millennials as they age, will show even greater instances of hearing loss,” says Dr. Strasnick, who adds hearing loss is frustrating for the family as well as the individual.
More importantly, there’s now good data that shows incidents of dementia are in part associated with hearing loss. And if you rehabilitate your hearing loss, it might slow memory loss.
As for my hearing test, I was told I did pretty well for my age. To my surprise, I did have some minor issues with my left ear which Dr Strasnick says I should follow up on, and I will.
And there's a simple thing you can do to improve your hearing: clean your ears.