2010-08-27 / Columnists

Have You Heard?

‘I Can Hear You Talking, But I Can’t Understand What You’re Saying!’
Commentary By Shirley Pollak, Au.

This is one of the most common complaints of people who suffer from hearing loss.

Speech is the most important sound that we hear every day.

Speech is made up of vowels, which are lower in pitch and higher in volume (loud-er), and consonants which are higher in pitch and lower in volume (softer).

While all types of hearing loss affect a person’s ability to hear and understand conversational sounds, the most common type of hearing loss, age related hearing loss or presbycusis, tends to affect high pitch sounds first. Those sounds in speech play a vital role in distinguishing words and understanding speech clearly. So while you may hear enough low pitch sounds to be aware that speech is present, you are likely missing the high pitch information that would clarify what is being said. This is a most frustrating situation, and one that a hearing impaired person encounters every day, all day.

Unfortunately, most people put off seeking help, to their own detriment and to the detriment of their family and friends. But once they do seek help, they quickly realize what they’ve been missing.

“I frequently have to ask people to repeat themselves, or look at their faces when they speak to me.”

These are some of the most common signs of hearing loss, and the first step in getting help is to have your hearing tested.

An audiological evaluation will assess whether or not there is hearing loss, what pitches or frequencies are affected, and to what degree.

It will also assess where along the hearing system the problem arises. For example, hearing loss that is a result of a problem in the outer or middle ear is often medically or surgically treatable, and you would be referred to an Ear, Nose, and Throat specialist for an evaluation.

Most hearing loss in adults is related to the inner ear, called sensorineural hearing loss, and is not medically or surgically treatable. Individuals with sensorineural hearing loss wear hearing aids to help them hear well.

“Will I need one or two hearing aids?”

Almost everyone with binaural hearing loss needs to wear two hearing aids. Using both ears allows the listening pathway in our brain to better process sound and understand speech, particularly in more difficult listening situations.

Wearing binaural hearing aids results in better sound discriminations, improved speech understanding, the ability to locate the source of the sound, and perhaps most importantly, in less stressful listening.

Listening with one ear requires a much greater effort, and individuals who wear only one hearing aid when they need two often complain of fatigue. It’s like seeing with one eye; you CAN see, but you don’t have depth perception or peripheral vision, and you have to make a greater effort to see. When you look with both eyes, vision is effortless.

Naturally, there are differing degrees of hearing loss, and every person’s case is different.

To find out more about your hearing, see an audiologist.

If you are concerned that you or someone you know may be suffering from hearing loss, please call Dr. Shirley Pollak at Rockaway Audiology and Hearing Aid Center at 718-474- 4744.

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