Is this hearing loss?
June 13, 2006 4:45 PM   Subscribe

Is there something wrong with my ears?

I have a problem where if a person faces me, I can hear them fine. But if I'm turned away, the words become a jumble and I can't clearly understand what's been said to me. I've had my hearing checked at the local Costco hearing center and at the hearing center in Sears, and not only did the people there tell me my hearing was fine, they made it seem like this was in my head and I was exaggerating -- to the point I was embarrassed to have bothered them.

But it continues, and it's near frustrating-to-tears.

Is it my ears or my brain?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (23 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You might be hearing sounds fine but having slight problems interpreting speech without visual cues such as lip movement, facial gesture, etc.

Costco and Sears are not the places to diagnose health issues. Go see a doctor.
posted by randomstriker at 4:58 PM on June 13, 2006

No guarantee it's what you've got, but my fiancée has a neurological condition that causes these exact symptoms. When she gets home from work I'll ask her what it's called.
posted by Zozo at 4:59 PM on June 13, 2006

Some kind of Auditory Processing Disorder?

You need to see a doctor, not some random person at costco.
posted by malphigian at 5:02 PM on June 13, 2006

See a doctor. And preferably a neurologist or neuropsychologist.

The people at Sears and Costco are pulled off the street and trained on a machine, not on ears and hearing.
posted by SpecialK at 5:11 PM on June 13, 2006

Another vote for a real doctor. An MD. Nothing less.
posted by bim at 5:15 PM on June 13, 2006

Wow, this EXACT thing happens to me and it is maddening. I was going to ask mefi about it, but I thought it was all in my head. I always have to ask people to repeat themselves. It isn't because I can't hear them, I can. But it is a processing issue, what they say doesn't sound like recognizable sounds, it just sounds like a jumble of noise. I can't wait to read the rest of the answers in this thread.
posted by necessitas at 5:34 PM on June 13, 2006

This happens to me, but just on one side (my left ear - if the person is standing on my right and I can't see them, I can understand them, but if they are behind me or on the left, I can't quite make it out, though I seem to hear at the same volume - like necessitas says, it's a jumble of noise). Since I used to be a college d.j. and listened to the broadcast headphones on just my left ear, I've always presumed it was mild hearing damage. When I can read lips and get visual cues, my brain has enough extra information to interpret the sounds I am not quite 100% hearing. Or so I assume. IANAD and have never bothered to see one about this.
posted by joannemerriam at 5:42 PM on June 13, 2006

Is it a derail to express surprise that Sears and Costco are providing psysiological testing? I'm not in the US. Is this a new thing?
posted by AmbroseChapel at 5:43 PM on June 13, 2006

The people at Costco/Sears should be shot into the sun for making you feel embarrassed. Perhaps they don't know how to work their machine, either. Symptoms like these can result from partial hearing loss, i.e. damage to the ear. Physical damage to the brain (i.e. not psychological problems) is also possible. You're not hysterical. Go and see a medical doctor to find out what's up.
posted by beniamino at 5:51 PM on June 13, 2006

I'm siding with malphigian and guessing an auditory processing disorder. Go ahead and see a doctor, but while you're there ask for a referral to an audiologist. They're more specialized in hearing than your average MD, and WAY more knowledgable than the good people at Costco.
posted by christinetheslp at 6:13 PM on June 13, 2006

I agree with the recommendation for an audiologist.

A great deal of what Joe Average would call 'hearing speech' is visual. Because of this, many folks who have problems in the other part of hearing - the auditory part - get by just fine with visual input. Similarly, blind people are able to walk around without falling over by relying on their inner ear for balance.
posted by ikkyu2 at 6:19 PM on June 13, 2006

You should get a hearing test, but probably from an accredited audiologist rather than a doctor.
posted by carmen at 6:20 PM on June 13, 2006

Wow... I'm very, very glad you asked this question. I've spent the past 10 or so years watching people's lips when I can and filling in the gaps when I can't. Thanks to the rest for the resource links.
posted by gyrom at 6:31 PM on June 13, 2006

IANAD, but I've had a severe-to-profound hearing loss since I was fine.

Go to your MD and ask for a referral to an audiologist - an AudD. They will do an eval that takes maybe 30-60 minutes, plus a consultation. An audiologist will be qualified to tell you if it is a hearing loss, and they'll be able to tell you what the next step is (as far as who to see) if it isn't (in which case, like others have said, it's an audio processing disorder).

That said, your story sounds a lot like a "new hearing loss" story; most people do learn to speech read/lip read pretty intuitively, and may not even notice they're doing it.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 6:57 PM on June 13, 2006

Necessitas: that could still be hearing loss. Regardless of whether or not you wear hearing aids, you will often feel like speech is "loud enough", but it just doesn't process right. Not that it couldn't be APD of some sort, but it's not a given.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 6:58 PM on June 13, 2006

Well, the Mrs.-Zozo-to-be says it's called "audio processing disorder." So, talk to a doctor about it.
posted by Zozo at 7:17 PM on June 13, 2006

Add me to the list of those with this same issue, but it's only when I'm not wearing my glasses.

If it's not particularly bothersome, is it worth getting it checked out? Is this something that can get worse over time, or lead to complete deafness?
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:19 PM on June 13, 2006

To echo the point that visual cues are a part of speech recognition, here's a neat little demonstration of the McGurk effect (QT). Watch & listen, and then listen with your eyes closed. See how important visual cues are to speech perception? Also, studies have shown that lip-reading augments speech comprehension for those with word deafness.

Echo #2: hie you to an audiologist who can diagnose you properly. As odd of a problem as it seems, there are treatments for managing agnosias, if that's what you're dealing with.
posted by neda at 7:44 PM on June 13, 2006 [1 favorite]

My entire family has a problem with background noise...when we're facing the person we hear fine, as we get older the background noise (cars, forks on plates, tv, others talking) overwhelm the person that we're talking to and our ears have a hard time figuring out what we're supposed to hear. There's a hearing aid that fixes this problem in specific.

I've been noticing that mine is getting worse and worse and soon I'll have to fix it with hearing devices. I am only 24 but spent too many years mildly punk rock and majorly drunk at rock shows.
posted by nadawi at 8:10 PM on June 13, 2006

Wow, that McGurk effect video is sort of mindblowing to me.
posted by jann at 8:16 PM on June 13, 2006

Also kinda interesting is Oliver Sacks' piece on aphasiacs' & agnosiacs' reaction to President Reagan giving a speech; it shows how factors such as prosody, intonation, and emotion are a part of understanding what people are saying--it's not just word comprehension.

And sorry if these tangents aren't a direct answer to your question, anon, but I mean to point out that our hearing, understanding, and brain can act in odd and intricate ways--or at least, can act in ways beyond the scope of a costco hearing center...
posted by neda at 9:23 PM on June 13, 2006

In addition to scary-sounding things like audio processing disorder or permanent hearing loss, it could just be a buildup of ear wax. I've found I need to get my ears cleaned out pretty frequently, and one of the main signs that I've gone too long without a cleaning is exactly what you're describing.

(Another sign is when I start needing to cup my hand over my ear to understand the dialogue on videotaped TV shows; apparently our VCR degrades the audio quality just enough to make it hard for my wax-filled ears to understand.)

My advice to you is the same as everybody else's--get your ears checked by a doctor--but I thought you might like to know that the problem could end up being minor and easily fixed.
posted by yankeefog at 6:31 AM on June 14, 2006

You could go to a doctor (particularly, an ENT); however, a good doctor will then send you to an audiologist.
posted by mimo at 10:22 AM on June 15, 2006

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