We’ve all had that ringing in our ears after a big night on the dance floor or a night out watching our favourite band, right? Hey, it’s the sign of a good night, isn’t it?
Well, yes and no.
Yes, the social aspect of getting out and having a good time is important for our mental health and wellbeing.
But also, well, no.
You see, one-off episodes like this can actually contribute to hearing loss over time.
Like so many other things that creep up on us – middle-age spread, suddenly looking foolish in skinny jeans, Christmas — hearing loss often happens so slowly you often don’t notice it until one day you’re turning up the TV sound so loud the neighbours don’t need to have theirs on at all.
If your iPhone volume is full-blast and you’re still struggling to hear your partner speak, or can’t watch a movie without missing half of what’s said, it might be time to consider if your hearing is all that it used to be.
So what exactly is hearing loss?
While you may think hearing loss only affects older people, or that it only happens because of age, the reality is that as many as one in six people, or about 3.6 million have hearing loss in Australia. People of all ages (yep, even yours) can experience and live with hearing loss.
Hearing loss can range in degree from mild to profound. You may find that listening to speech sounds starts to become difficult, which means you’re asking people to repeat themselves all the time. Which could begin to explain that TV volume!
And here’s a confronting statistic. According to Health Direct, 1.3 million people living with hearing loss could have potentially avoided it – in that they could have taken preventative steps to protect their hearing against hearing loss.
How hearing loss can impact your life
From trips to the cinema, to the office, to your dating life, and travel – the impact of hearing loss extends well beyond missing a few words across the table at dinner time, or being unable to hear a waitress talk you through the specials (rest assured, one of them is always risotto).
In fact, even mild hearing loss has the potential to have a noticeable effect on your life – from a loss of confidence in some social situations to more significant impacts on mental health and wellbeing.
While untreated hearing loss can certainly make life challenging, the good news is that it can be addressed, and it is possible to get back to living a full, active and socially connected life. So that’s good news for you and, for those of us who like a bit of late night TV, quite possibly your neighbours.
What causes hearing loss?
Turns out it’s not just age, or loud music blasting through your headphones that can chip away at the delicate structure of your ears and cause hearing loss – though that does account for 37% of people with hearing loss.
Certain career choices like mining, construction, hospitality or farming – or any profession where you have exposure to repeated, loud noise – can also have an impact on hearing.
Ear infections, other illnesses and some medications can also contribute to hearing loss.
It can be hereditary too. So while you might thank your Mum for passing down her good looks, great skin and that silver cutlery set you always had your eye on, you might not be so thankful if she passed down her predisposition to hearing loss too.
Hear all the news
Hear from our audiological experts, find out about events and more by subscribing to our monthly newsletter.
What are the signs and symptoms of hearing loss?
Often, hearing loss happens so gradually that you don’t even notice. It’s when friends and family start to get cranky with you that you might wonder if something is amiss. When the neighbours can’t hear their TV over yours, for example, or your partner refuses to repeat something for the 10th time, you might want to think about getting your hearing checked.
Common signs of hearing loss are varied but can include:
You find it difficult to understand others. Always asking your family to repeat themselves? Struggling to understand what someone is saying if they’re not talking directly to your face? Tell-tale signs that your hearing may need a check, right there.
You have trouble hearing in noisy environments. Restaurants are busy, bustling places with bad acoustics, clattering cutlery and background music. If they leave you feeling overwhelmed by all the “din” and struggling to hear and keep up with conversations, then your hearing might be due for a check.
You turn the volume right up. We all love to crank up the stereo to listen to our favourite Fleetwood Mac tracks, but if we’re constantly listening to our stereo or TV on max – and sharing our listening pleasure with the whole neighbourhood – then it might be time to investigate what’s going on. Your neighbours will love you for it.
You miss phone calls. If you aren’t hearing the phone ring – rather than just screening calls from your latest not so great Tinder date or non-favourite relative/friend/overseas call centre operator – then that might also be a sign for further follow up.
You can’t hear others on the phone. Volume on max and still can’t hear what the plans are for next weekend’s family BBQ, boys poker night or book club meet-up? You guessed right, perhaps it’s time for a hearing check.
You speak REALLY LOUDLY. Constantly being told to shoosh? Are your kids embarrassed to take you places because you’re “just so loud!”? Take it down a notch and maybe think about what’s causing it.
Have you been exposed to too much noise?
If you’re wondering just how much noise is too much, there are some immediate tell-tale signs that you might have been exposed to high levels of sound:
Muffled hearing: You experience a muffled sound in your ears, which might last for a few hours or even a few days.
Ringing in your ears: This is called tinnitus, which can happen after being exposed to very loud music or other sounds. It may mean that your ears have been over-exposed to noise, and it can be an early sign of hearing loss. Tinnitus can become debilitating. The more ‘noisy’ episodes you’ve been exposed to, the greater the potential for it to become a problem.
The take home message is to be prepared wherever you may be exposed to loud noise. We’re talking earplugs. Pop some in your bag or pocket just in case.
Think about the noisy places you visit. If you’re someone who loves to blast the tunes on the treadmill at the gym for example, keep the volume on your headphones sensible, not loud enough for the people exercising around you to hear as well. Love a bit of Doobie Brothers in the car or a podcast on the way to work? Just remember to keep the volume in check. As they say: everything in moderation.
In a nutshell, just like your skin needs protection from the sun (especially if it’s to stay as good as mum’s), your ears also need protection to keep your hearing as sharp as it can be.
Seek help early to save your hearing
OK here’s the good news. If you suspect you might have signs of hearing loss, there are some simple, easy things you can do. The best place to start is with a hearing test.
You can either talk to your GP or make an appointment with one of our clinicians for a hearing check. Alternatively, you can also do our online hearing test, which takes only 10 minutes and can be done from home.
If your test reveals some hearing loss, we can discuss a range of options available to get you back to better hearing. (Some options will be provided to you at the end of your online hearing test, depending on the outcome).
Remember that the earlier you seek help, the sooner you can address it. It all comes back to taking that first easy step.