How can I fix my hearing?
September 21, 2008 6:03 PM   Subscribe

What can I do to fix my hearing? (Don't forget to use caps so I can hear you.)

I went to an Ear, Nose, and Throat doctor this past week for a hearing test. I've felt that my hearing has slowly been degrading over time. I say, "What?" a lot, and usually have the TV too loud (compared to where other people seem to hear it fine).

Based on the results of the hearing test (listen to the beeps and click the button if I can hear it), the doctor said that I indeed possessed "mild to moderate hearing loss," but that he thought it was not bad enough to warrant a hearing aid. I asked him if there was any way to fix it besides a hearing aid, and he said there wasn't: the cilia in my inner ear is all messed up (he used more appropriate medical terms--but you get the idea). He said that all I could do is just get my hearing tested each year and stay away from loud noises.

I'm only 28, I don't work in a job with a lot of loud noises or power tools, I don't listen to really loud rock music, and I don't spend a whole lot of time around loudness in general. I play my music and TV a bit louder, but it's not deafening. My father said he's experienced the same thing through his life (messed up cilia in the inner ear--again, substitute the medical terminology in here). He's almost 60, and he said that in the last year or two, he has started hearing a constant low white noise (like TV static) or grasshoppers.

Fantastic. So this is what I have to look forward to. Grasshoppers, white noise, and playing the TV too loud. My father can still hear and doesn't have a hearing aid; in fact, he has great ability with tonal differentiation (he plays piano).

So the doctor says there's nothing that can be done. He said it definitely wasn't a wax build-up, either. I humbly ask you if you can think of any potential fixes for this? Is there some kind of audio therapy? Or new-fangled technology to overcome hearing problems?

Save me from the grasshoppers.
posted by rybreadmed to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Your doctor is right. Real hearing loss is permament. There are things you can do to slow the progression, but nothing you can do to get back what you've lost.
posted by Class Goat at 6:21 PM on September 21, 2008

I'm much younger than you and I've lost my hearing in my left ear, through no fault of my own. As you doctor said there isn't anything you can do - except preserve what remains. I invested in a bunch of good disposable ear plugs for the rare times that I am in a loud environment (clubs, concerts, etc.)
Cherish and protect what hearing you do have, so that it lasts as long as possible.
posted by Ctrl_Alt_ep at 6:29 PM on September 21, 2008

I am deaf in my right ear from birth. Sorry, there's nothing you can do but get used to your situation and minimise exposure from here on in.

One other thing to look out for - talking too loud. It is harder for me to regulate the volume of my voice so I'm often told that I'm a loud talker in some circumstances and too quiet and mumbly in others. It's a constant frustration to me.
posted by wingless_angel at 7:06 PM on September 21, 2008

Or new-fangled technology to overcome hearing problems?

There are technological fixes which will help you cope with hearing loss. They're called "hearing aids". But except for extreme measures like cochlear implants (which are completely inappropriate for you), there's nothing that will give you back what you've lost.
posted by Class Goat at 7:20 PM on September 21, 2008

A few things/strategies you might like to consider:

-- lip reading classes -- this will provide another source of input so you can work out what people are saying.
-- if you're comfortable, actually tell people you're a little deaf: that way, you're giving them the information they need in order to deal effectively with you and you don't have to pretend you heard them (thus putting more pressure on you in the conversation). In my experience, stating this up front made the conversation less frustrating for all parties.
-- seriously cut yourself some slack -- it's likely you're concentrating harder than most people in order to hear and you may find you get tired more easily than other people (I wish someone had told me that one earlier -- I spent the first two-thirds of my life thinking I was lazy).

email/memail me if you have any questions -- i started with a moderate hearing loss at age 5 that became profound over the next 25-odd years (that's not to say that will happen to you -- everyone's different!) and am happy to give you some more ideas if you like.
posted by prettypretty at 7:22 PM on September 21, 2008

Best answer: I've been hard of hearing or deaf for almost my entire life, so not in your situation. But I do know this: lots of ENTs don't know jack about hearing loss. If you haven't already, get a referral to an audiologist. Preferably one who works in a clinic with other audiologists, and definitely not just a hearing aid salesperson. A lot of hearing loss isn't treated because many ENTs are still in the mindset where hearing aids are crappy, and therefore really only useful when you have more hearing loss than you do. It may be the case that you wouldn't yet benefit from hearing aids; but you should ask someone who actually works with hearing aids on a daily basis.

Sorry if this is inflammatory. It's a gross generalization, yes, but I've found that many ENTs are lousy when it comes to hearing loss. I'm deaf enough now to have a cochlear implant, but not a year before I got it, I had an ENT question whether I was deaf at all, because I "speak too well".
posted by spaceman_spiff at 7:22 PM on September 21, 2008

prettypretty - you totally have it right about feeling tired! I also find that I must make lots of notes at meetings to lessen the pressure of having to both hear and remember everything afterwards.
posted by wingless_angel at 7:32 PM on September 21, 2008

The good news is that there are now hearing aids that are not as big as Buicks, my ENT showed me some that are hardly noticeable, no kidding. The bad news is that you and I may end up using one of them.

For me, years of construction work, loud concerts, guns, cassette and then cd and more recently mp3 players all set on 10 when working out or riding that dang bike. And it IS cumulative, I didn't notice it as it was leaving, but it is gone; I cannot hear in the high registers at all ie alarm on a digital wristwatch. Ten or fifteen years ago I used them as an alarm clock. I'm cautious now, with music especially.

Can anyone here make an informed comment on how much worse it is going to get for me due to what I've already done? Let's say I'm totally good to my ears from this day on, is there still more from the past that is going to come and nail me, take more of my hearing away?
posted by dancestoblue at 7:37 PM on September 21, 2008

I've had 30% hearing loss in both ears since birth. Definitely agreeing that it's easy to lose track of the volume of your own voice-- my sister has been telling me to keep it down for twenty years now. Especially when I drink.

I agree with prettypretty that telling people up front that you have hearing loss is the best route.
The main thing that I make clear to people right off the bat is that I absolutely won't hear them if they come up behind me and start talking. Even if they're right in front of me I may not notice unless they get my attention first. I just can't pick noises out of a crowd. And if I have to ask people to repeat themselves or speak up, it's slightly less frustrating.

At this point I'm used to it, but I've grown up with people who understand it and work around it.
posted by riane at 8:00 PM on September 21, 2008

dancestoblue: If you're really good to your ears, I don't think past behavior will cause further damage; what's done is done. Unfortunately, age-related hearing loss is not entirely behavioral and environmental; it's just a fact of life, particularly for men. Depending on your genetics, you may be more or less prone to it.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 9:10 PM on September 21, 2008

Seconding spaceman_spiff's advice to go see an audiologist. S/he would be better equipped to help you out and determine if hearing aids are necessary. And if these days hearing aids are much smaller and more unnoticeable.

Like others have said, you can't regain hearing you have lost. You can minimize the damage by avoiding activities that would affect your hearing even more, but the train's already left the station.

People you talk to will generally be accommodating if you ask. If background noise is a problem, tell them. If you need them to face you when they talk to you, tell them. If you want them to tap you on the shoulder to get your attention instead of asking for you verbally, tell them. etc.

Also seconding the experience of whoever mentioned difficulty in regulating volume when you speak. I was born hard of hearing, and it's declined a bit since childhood, so sometimes I overestimate how loud I need to speak to be heard, that kind of thing.
posted by lullaby at 9:28 PM on September 21, 2008

uh... And if these days hearing aids . . .
posted by lullaby at 9:29 PM on September 21, 2008

In agreement with what others have said:
1. Get an evaluation by an audiologist, not just a hearing aid salesperson, as s_spiff recommends.
2. Be protective of your hearing as much as you can be.
3. Hearing aids may not be appropriate now, but you may be able to learn to make better use of them in the long run if you don't wait until your hearing loss progresses too much (use it or lose it). So, get hearing tests and speak with your audiologist regularly to keep on top of this.
4. Learn to be proactive about communication. If you are comfortable doing so, tell people you have a little hearing loss. You will probably need to remind them. Make sure you are looking at people's faces as much as possible and try and train at least family and close friends to make the effort to face you when they talk and not to talk from the other room.
5. Be cardiovascularly fit. Good blood flow may slow progression (at least it won't hurt).

Maybe by the time you are your father's age, we will be able to regrow damaged hair cells, but don't wait around for that.

[I do hearing research, but am not an audiologist].
posted by mimo at 9:36 PM on September 21, 2008

mimo: you just reminded me -- this was in the paper today: Stem cell find may replace bionic ear

wingless_angel: I am a copious note-taker in meetings too (even now that I "have my hearing back" via my CI). The thing that used to get me was that I was so busy listening (and taking notes!) I didn't have the brain space to actually think of anything to say -- I used to spend the time after a meeting kicking myself about all the things I should have said.
posted by prettypretty at 9:41 PM on September 21, 2008

I attended loud concerts (Ministry, Butthole Surfers, Pantera come to mind as being especially loud) that were truly deafening. Add to that Walkman players, and portable CD players; by the time I was thirty the hearing in my right ear was noticeably affected, and an ear, nose and throat specialist tested my hearing and discovered that my ability to understand low sounds had diminished significantly.

Over the past seven years I have tried to take better care of my hearing. I have an iPod, but use it infrequently, and when I do I make sure the volume is kept low enough so that I can easily hear the outside world. That means I can't listen to my iPod on the bus.

I do a lot of flying in cigar tubes as part of my work, and I always wear earplugs. I haven't been to a rock concert in a while, but when I do I always wear earplugs to those sorts of things, too.

My hearing isn't shot, and it has not gotten noticeably worse since over the past seven years. However, I have a lot of difficulty making out conversation in loud environments, such as bars or noisy cafeterias. I usually have to crane my neck around and point my ear in the direction of the conversation.

People usually think I'm ignoring them - I'm not looking at them in the eye. So I have to tell them that I'm hard of hearing. Too many Ministry concerts back in uni. It's an icebreaker, but nobody really remembers that I can't hear. I look too young.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:57 PM on September 21, 2008

If you are exposed to loud noises in the future, take a large dose of a magnesium supplement.
posted by qvtqht at 6:23 AM on September 22, 2008

Derail -

I do a lot of flying in cigar tubes as part of my work, and I always wear earplugs.

Why exactly? Is it the noise or frequency that threatens your hearing? I fly a lot too; should I be using ear plugs? (Unfortunately, googling "flying hearing loss" gets results about pressure and the Valsalva technique.)

On topic -

If you are comfortable doing so, tell people you have a little hearing loss.

Yes, yes, yes. My daddy refuses to acknowledge that his hearing is deteriorating and has been for a long time. He thinks people don't notice. They notice, but they don't know how to help. It's so much better for my dad if he can see you (over the years, he's taught himself to read lips). Also, I try hard to find us the quietest table in restaurants so that the background noise isn't horrible. Little stuff can make a big difference - ask for help!
posted by 26.2 at 8:58 AM on September 26, 2008

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