Do you suspect you might have hearing loss? Has hearing loss recently been positively, absolutely confirmed? Have you lived with it for some time?
Whatever stage of the hearing loss journey you’re at, chances are you’ve hurled these questions at the universe: Why me? What happened? Why now?
These questions are easy to ask, but the answers aren’t always easy to get. Much about hearing loss is still unknown; scientific and medical research has not yet solved many, maybe even most, of the mysteries of the hearing system. OK, I’ll be honest – I don’t know how close researchers have come to finding the missing pieces. I just know there are no clear answers to my questions about the cause of my hearing loss, how much damage was sustained because of the radiation I received when I was 6, or how can we fix the tinnitus that I’m enduring now.
If you ask your doctor and audiologist why has this happened to you, she or he will give it their best shot with the professional version of “who knows?” If tumors and other diseases have been ruled out and your audiogram doesn’t show any noise-induced hearing loss, the crooked finger of fate might point in many other directions: heredity, age-related hearing loss, issues with your mother carrying you in utero or delivering you, maybe something happened to you as a child – or maybe you’re-just-lucky-I-guess.
But here’s the good news – regardless of its cause, there’s never been a better time to have hearing loss than now! Just to show how good things are, be thankful you didn’t live with it 100 years ago, when you might have been stuck with using an ear trumpet, hopefully one that goes well with your hair. It was a different time for people with hearing loss; scientists knew less than they do now, and social acceptance was low. I wrote this in my book The Way I Hear It (pg. 59).
If I lived in the early 20th century rather than the 21st, the hard of hearing life would be very different. During WWI, I may have been put to work in factories considered too noisy for hearing people but perfect for someone who didn’t hear. At home, I might be considered dim and inarticulate, relegated to an ignored existence in the corner, performing menial chores. My family might hide me away when company came to call, or perhaps try to marry me off to an old, widowed farmer, talking me up as someone who “doesn’t hear much, but she can pull a plow and is good with the pigs.”
Today, it’s a very different story. Hearing technology has exploded with innovative, exciting devices that help most people hear and understand in ways we couldn’t have dreamed of even 20 years ago.
Even better, the stigma of having hearing loss is disappearing. Our issue has gone mainstream and while hearing aids and cochlear implant sound processors aren’t yet considered the fashion must-haves as corrective glasses have become, but they’re not viewed as negatively as, say, a wooden ear trumpet. Hearing aids are an accepted, common device in modern society – and in my world, we admire technology that’s brightly colored or adorned with bling. The negative vibe mainly comes from people using them: “People will think I’m old or that my marbles are loose. It’s OK for other people to have it, but not me!”
I was the teenager who actually wanted a hearing aid, although my doctors said it wouldn’t help me. Wrong! I’ve enjoyed 40 years of hearing aids that keep me connected. Even so, I did go through an initial period of rejection. What 20-year old thinks a beige satellite dish in the side of her head makes her look pretty? Getting used to a hearing aid takes some adjustment both physiologically and mentally, but the rewards are worth it.
Yet, the best time to have hearing loss hasn’t happened yet. That’s still in the future.
A future when hearing aids will be smarter and more affordable. Cochlear implants will be even more advanced.
A future where hearing care professionals are compensated for providing the counseling we need, along with guidance on a full spectrum of assistive technology, not just hearing aids.
A future where some forms of hearing loss can be prevented, when damaged inner ear hair cells can be regenerated, and when protecting our hearing from noise damage is a common health practice.
That will be the best time ever to have hearing loss – and it’s coming.
Photo of Louise Elisabeth de Meuron from Wikipedia