Forty-eight million people of all ages in the U.S. suffer from some degree of hearing loss. A lot of times the loss of hearing is a sign of another health problem.
MPR News host Tom Weber hosted a discussion on hearing loss and how it affects the personal and professional lives of millions of Americans.
1. Hearing loss can be a symptom of other health problems
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Hearing loss is the third most common physical ailment behind arthritis and disease heart disease.
"For many of us hearing loss is something that just happens as we age. So we take it for granted that its just a normal part of aging and it's got to be relatively inconsequential," said Dr. Frank Lin.
Lin said there are additional health consequences to hearing loss including an increased risk of cognitive ailments like dementia, or other physical ailments.
2. It isn't part of old age
"There is a stigma of aging associated with hearing loss," said author and retired journalist Katherine Bouton. "I got it at age 30."
"Hearing loss is a medical issue," she said. "Correcting hearing loss is not a cosmetic issue it's not like getting your hair colored or getting a face-lift as you get old."
3. Teen hearing loss remains high
"The incidence of hearing loss for kids in their teen years a century ago is relatively high. The problem is still relatively high now," said Bouton. She said noises of factories and lack of ear protection years ago have been replaced with ear buds and loud entertainment venues today.
"I don't think you're going to persuade anybody not to listen" through their ear buds, Bouton added. But she encourages regular users of ear buds to turn the volume down and let your ears rest after a listening session so they can "readjust."
4. Ignore it and people tend to assume something else is wrong with you
"I couldn't hear very well in meetings. So I would really stop participating. Sometimes I would ask a question that somebody else just asked, or I'd repeat something that someone else just said. There was the notion that something was wrong with me," Bouton said. "One of my colleagues said to me recently he thought I was just kind of burned out of this job" but "I couldn't hear a thing that was going on around me, and I was faking it day after day."
5. You can support those who need help but are afraid to seek it by challenging their assumptions
"Gosh those people," Bouton said. "I know they're so difficult to deal with. I would suggest the person get his hearing tested because it might be that the hearing loss is from an underlying physical cause that should be treated." She adds that it is worth noting the problem could be something simple and easy to fix like ear wax buildup.
6. Hearing aids are often an expensive, but worthwhile investment
Hearing aids can cost as much as $4,000 per aid right now, and most people need two, Bouton told Weber. But not treating hearing loss in the short run will likely cost you more in the long run. More insurers are starting to provide this type of coverage.
So-called Personal Sound Amplification Products can also help. They aren't hearing aids, but are a cheaper alternative to them and can help some people.
7. The primary driver of high hearing aid prices: an inefficient market
"Let's say you get a pair of hearing aids for $5,000 from an audiologist. Only about a third of that cost is the actual cost of the hearing aid. The remainder of that two-thirds of cost a lot of the time is to paying the audiologist for their time and expertise," said Lin.
But that is an inefficient model, he notes. "Not everyone needs three thousand dollars worth of fitting and care. Some people do. Some people don't. Some people just need a properly fitting hearing aid and can move on ... The actual cost of a pair of high-quality hearing aides it's probably about two hundred dollars."