Recognizing stages of hearing loss

You would imagine that if you or someone you love had hearing loss, it would be obvious. But the fact is the symptoms are often hidden. Most cases start off mildly and worsen over time, and the changes in hearing may be too subtle to observe on a day-to-day basis. This is the main reason that people wait seven to 10 years, on average, before seeking help.

Subtle signs of hearing loss

If you believe that you or someone you love has hearing loss, take notice and try to recognize these signs that occur in the early stages.

New difficulty hearing certain pitches or sounds: Hearing loss doesn’t always impact all types of sounds. If you can hear some pitches and sounds normally, you shouldn’t exclude the possibility of some loss of hearing. In fact, it predominantly impacts higher-frequency sounds. The voices of women and children, for example, may be more difficult to hear than men’s voices. Consonants also represent higher frequencies than vowels and can be tougher to hear clearly.

Reliance on context cues to understand speech: People who have difficulty hearing often subconsciously—or actively—rely on contextual cues, such as body language or lip reading, to fill in the blanks. It may be difficult to understand what someone is saying ifthey’re standing behind you, or if the conversation is taking place over the phone.

Difficulty hearing in busy settings: When your hearing difficulties are mild, you may still be able to understand what those around you are saying, although it requires more effort. However, if background noise is introduced, such as at a party or busy restaurant, it may become overwhelming and frustrating to try to hear conversations. The competing noises compromise your hearing and make it more difficult for you to focus.

Mental exhaustion: Lastly, you may notice that, after engagement in a group setting, you are more tired than normal. This occurs because you’re continuously fighting to hear and comprehend incomplete sounds, which can lead to listening exhaustion.

The stages of grief

In addition to the early signs and symptoms, there are also common emotional reactions that people with hearing loss will go through, which are similar to the stages of grief.

Denial stage: In the early stages, people who begin to mishear syllables and softer sounds enter the denial stage. They are not ready to believe that they may have a serious issue that threatens their quality of life. They may brush off any indication of a problem and avoid any insinuations that they should have their hearing tested.

Coping stage: After some time, the symptoms will worsen. Difficulty hearing will have a greater impact on day-to-day life, and people then enter the coping stage. In this stage, they pick up coping mechanisms to accommodate their difficulties hearing, such as turning their head to use their good ear or asking others to repeat themselves often.

Withdrawal stage: When their hearing worsens over time and the mental exhaustion associated with trying to cope becomes overwhelming, people then enter the withdrawal stage. At this point, the hearing loss has a bigger impact on quality of life and individuals begin to withdraw from social gatherings that are too stressful for listening, such as parties. Embarrassment plays a large factor in the withdrawal stage. Depression may also be present.

Acceptance: Finally, the last stage is acceptance, which often occurs after many years of struggling with the other three stages.

If you recognize the signs and symptoms of hearing loss, or if you find yourself in any of these stages, don’t wait. Request an appointment for a comprehensive hearing evaluation today with one of our doctoral-level audiologists.