Health Insights column: October is National Audiology Awareness Month; get your hearing checked | VailDaily.com

Health Insights column: October is National Audiology Awareness Month; get your hearing checked

More than 36 million American adults have some degree of hearing loss. That is more than four times the amount of people who live in New York City. The statistics are shocking, even more so knowing that more than half of those 36 million Americans are younger than 65.

Hearing loss is an increasing health concern in the United States, and it is often preventable. Taking time to see an audiologist for regular hearing screenings and knowing the signs of hearing loss can protect your hearing.

Hearing loss can be caused by exposure to loud noises, ear infections, trauma or ear disease; harm to the inner ear and ear drum; illness or certain medications; and deterioration due to the normal aging process. The amount of noise Americans are exposed to today plays an important role in the recent increase of hearing loss across the nation. It is no longer only a health concern for seniors.

Diagnosis

Have you stopped going to restaurants and social gatherings? Do you keep to yourself when in noisy environments? If you answered yes, you may have a hearing problem. Some telltale signs of hearing loss are trouble hearing conversation in a noisy environment such as restaurants, difficulty or inability to hear people talking to you without looking at them and/or a constant pain or ringing in your ears.

On average, most Americans don't know how to recognize the first signs of hearing loss or which health professional is qualified to diagnose and treat the condition. If you think you may have a hearing loss, you need to see an audiologist.

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An audiologist is a licensed and clinically experienced health care professional who specializes in evaluating, diagnosing and treating people with hearing loss and balance disorders. The first step in treatment of a hearing problem is to get your hearing evaluated by an audiologist. A hearing evaluation will determine the degree of hearing loss you have and what can be done. Although most hearing loss is permanent, an audiologist can determine the best treatment, which may include hearing aids, assistive listening devices and hearing rehabilitation.

Causes

Noise-induced hearing loss is caused by damage to the microscopic hair cells, or cilia, which are found in the inner ear. Cilia are small sensory cells that convert the sounds we hear (sound energy) into electrical signals that travel to the brain. Once damaged, our hair cells cannot be repaired or grow back, causing permanent hearing loss.

The loudness of sound is measured in units called decibels. Noise-induced hearing loss is caused by prolonged exposure to any loud noise higher than 85 decibels, such as concerts, sporting events, lawnmowers, fireworks, MP3 players at full volume and more. A brief exposure to a very intense sound can also damage your hearing.

An environment is too loud and considered dangerous if you:

• Have to shout over background noise to be heard.

• It is painful to your ears.

• It makes your ears ring during and after exposure.

Hearing loss not only affects your ability to understand speech, but it also has a negative impact on your social and emotional well-being. Noise-induced hearing loss can occur gradually over time, and people don't often realize they are changing the way they live to make up for the disability.

If you have decreased or muffled hearing for several hours after exposure, that is a sign of temporary and possibly permanent hearing damage.

Dr. Daria Stakiw is a board-certified doctor of audiology and has been practicing in hospitals, clinics and the educational setting for more than 14 years. For more information, contact Rocky Mountain Audiology in Glenwood Springs at 970-945-7575 or in Edwards at 970-926-6660.

Protect your hearing

In response to the growing number of Americans suffering from hearing loss, the American Academy of Audiology, in conjunction with Rocky Mountain Audiology, has launched National Audiology Awareness Month in October.

Do the following to protect your hearing:

• Wear hearing protection when around sounds louder than 85 decibels for 30 minutes or more.

• Turn down the volume when listening to the radio, TV, MP3 player or anything through earbuds or headphones.

• Walk away from loud noise.