Robert Hayden, DC, PhD, FICC
I have recently been re-sensitized to a new/old issue. Many of these thoughts and experiences find their way into GRIP articles when I think they are important, and this one is.
We humans are designed with five senses: sight, sensation, taste, smell, and hearing. The senses tell us about our environment and allow us to interact with the world around us. They allow us to learn, to relate to each other, to be human. Sometimes conditions occur that diminish our senses slowly enough that we do not even realize that something is not working. In other words, even if you think everything is fine, you may not know that is not.
I decided recently to have my hearing checked by a skilled audiologist. I had no hint of any hearing loss, just the tinnitus that I hear all the time. I had also no idea that I was in for such a steep learning curve this week.
What I know from our patients is that people who have significant hearing loss are socially isolated. If they cannot hear what is going on around them, they are far less likely to interact with other people. Watching television, listening to music, enjoying the laughter of children or grandchildren, and other things we take for granted are no longer part of their world. My observation is that depression follows shortly thereafter.
When it comes to our sense of hearing, it is best to start early with prevention. Turn down the MP3 players, surround-sound systems, and other forms of entertainment to tolerable levels. It is very difficult to convince a young person to do this. I was young once, and I have fond recollections of Lynyrd Skynyrd concerts, firework displays, and Alabama football games. Loud noises take their toll over time by making the ear less efficient in transmitting sound.
Ears, by the way, are marvelous inventions. They take ambient sound, which is vibration transmitted through air, and convert it to electrical energy to be sent through nerves to our brains for interpretation. When that energy is interpreted, sound is perceived. As I am fond of saying, “God is awful smart.”
The aging process, infections (particularly repeated infections), injury to the head or ear structures, and developmental defects can all affect your ability to hear. Something that we do not immediately consider is that there are many drugs that can harm the nerves that connect the ear to the brain.
One of the most common drugs that is toxic to the auditory nerve is garden-variety aspirin. I know people who have coped with chronic pain by taking headache powders sometimes several times a day. These contain aspirin. Besides dangerously thinning the blood, they cause ulcers that may be life-threatening. They also are directly toxic to the acoustic nerve that gives us hearing.
I would encourage everyone to have their hearing checked if they have not already done so. You may get a clean bill of health, but you may get a surprise. You would rather know if there is a problem so you can correct it before it gets worse.
The testing is simple. Your audiologist will ask you some simple questions about your general health to get a directed history related to your special senses. He or she will probably directly examine your ears next by looking into the canal at your eardrum with an otoscope. Next, your ears will be plugged into a machine that will produce sounds of various intensities and pitches to measure how much you hear and check some reflexes inside the ear.
Your audiologist will share results and conclusions with you and talk about options if you need them. There may be a referral to an ear nose and throat surgeon for consultation if that is necessary. Usually there is not a rush, as these changes happen slowly enough that you will have time to make a good decision.
The technology for hearing aids, by the way, has evolved and continues to improve all the time. If you need one, there are many choices available to you that will enhance your hearing as well as her quality of life.
I do not have her permission to share her name with you, but I want to say the audiologist that I saw was very knowledgeable, professional and impressive. She found the fingerprints of an issue that needed to be checked out, and I truly appreciate her dedication to her profession. She would say she was just doing her job, but she did it very well.
If you have been considering having your hearing checked, especially if you have never done so, I would strongly encourage it. Ben Franklin said, “A stitch in time saves nine,” and that certainly applies to health issues. Call me or drop by and I will be happy to direct you to my personal audiologist. You would be in very good hands with her. So call me—it only takes a short time, and it might make a big difference in your life.