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Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Can You Hear Me Now?


Let’s change mindsets and make hearing care a reality for all

What image pops into your mind when I say “hearing aids”? Is it an image of your grandparent with hearing aids? Contrary to popular belief, hearing loss does not exclusively affect adults. One of my youngest patients is a few weeks old, failed a hearing screen at birth and will be fitted with hearing aids in both ears soon.

Hearing is one of our five special senses. It helps us to communicate with each other, learn and connect with our surroundings. It helps us to hear bird songs and keeps us safe. In the bustling rhythm of our daily lives, the significance of ears and hearing care often takes a back seat. We frequently overlook the importance of maintaining the health of our ears. The World Health Organization (WHO) motto for World Hearing Day on March 3 was “Changing Mindsets: Let’s Make Ear and Hearing Care a Reality for All!”

According to the WHO, more than 5% of the world’s population have hearing loss. This number is expected to double by 2050. Hearing problems are rarely noticeable. They can often be subtle and progress gradually over time. People and their families may dismiss mild symptoms of hearing loss, attributing them to “the other person speaking too softly” or “not paying attention when someone is talking.” Common misconceptions about hearing loss include:

Hearing loss is a concern only for older people: Hearing loss can affect people of all ages. Babies can be born with hearing loss due to genetic causes or maternal infections during pregnancy. Viral or severe bacterial infections affecting the inner ear can cause sudden hearing loss at any age. Occupational or recreational loud noise exposure can cause hearing loss in middle-aged and older adults.

Hearing aids are only for the severely deaf: Modern hearing aids are available in various colors, styles and sizes and address a wide range of hearing losses. They can amplify sound and enhance the hearing experiences for individuals with mild, moderate and severe hearing loss.

Ignoring hearing loss has consequences: Neglecting hearing issues can lead to social isolation, interfering with our ability to think, learn and remember clearly. Studies have reported that hearing loss is associated with a high risk of developing mental health issues and even memory loss. Early diagnosis and intervention are crucial to preventing this.

We can all help to make hearing care a reality for everyone. Education plays a big role in changing mindsets. We can help raise awareness about hearing loss and hearing care, highlight the importance of avoiding prolonged loud noise exposure and improper ear-cleaning practices, and encourage routine hearing screening for all age groups. Proactively identifying hearing issues early can help individuals with hearing loss to make informed decisions about their ear health.

Hearing aids can be life-changing for people with hearing loss. High cost and lack of accessibility prevent people from obtaining them. Starting in October 2022, affordable over-the-counter hearing aids are available to adults with hearing loss without a prescription. A few private health insurance providers cover hearing aids. Vocational rehabilitation services often provide hearing aids to employed individuals, but there is a long way to go before low-cost hearing screening and hearing aids are accessible to all.

Mary, a 25-year-old with worsening hearing loss, is unable to find a job due to her hearing loss. As she is unemployed, she is unable to afford health insurance, cannot pay for hearing aids and wants to apply for disability. We need more inclusive workplaces that recognize and address the needs of individuals like Mary to prevent young people with hearing loss from being unemployed and applying for disability. Simple work accommodations like providing subtitles on presentations, creating quiet meeting spaces and permitting smartphone voice-to-text applications can help foster an inclusive work environment.

Many people hesitate to seek help due to the fear of being judged or due to societal misconceptions. We can all help break down these barriers and foster an environment that encourages ear care.

Yes, it’s time to change our mindset and ensure hearing care is a reality for all.

Request: Please donate unused hearing aids to the Department of Otolaryngology at LSU Health Shreveport. We can reprogram and fit them to our patients with hearing loss who cannot afford them. Call 318-675-6262 to donate.

Lucy Liu, MD, is a second-year otolaryngology-head & neck surgery resident at LSU Health Shreveport. Gauri Mankekar, MD, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of otolaryngology-head & neck surgery at LSU Health Shreveport.


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