Hearing Loss

Can you give me some practical solutions to compensate for my minor hearing loss?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I suffer from minor hearing loss, but not bad enough for a hearing aid. My wife complains about the volume on the TV, and I can't always keep up with conversations at a party or restaurant. I'm not looking for a technological fix just yet. Can you give me some practical solutions?

DEAR READER: I'm happy to share some practical tips for dealing with minor hearing loss. Before I do, though, I'd advise you to see a doctor. Hearing loss may be caused by a variety of things, including an underlying health condition.

How can I tell if my complaints are a consequence of aging or an actual problem?

DEAR DOCTOR K: Every time I complain about a new medical issue, my husband says, "You're 84. What do you expect?" How do I know if my complaints are just a consequence of aging or if there's an actual problem?

DEAR READER: I'm not 84, but I ask myself that question regularly. You don't have to be a doctor to understand that new symptoms develop as we age. But some changes aren't a normal part of the aging process. I'll discuss some common age-related health changes, as well as changes that suggest there might be a problem.

What will happen during my hearing test?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My hearing is going. Before I get a hearing aid, I'm told I need a hearing test. How will the test help?

DEAR READER: The hearing test (formally called an "audiological evaluation") identifies how bad your hearing loss is in each ear. It also determines where the problem is worst. Is it with high-pitched sounds? Is it in distinguishing a particular sound -- like someone speaking to you -- in a noisy place? This is what the audiologist (a health professional specializing in hearing testing and hearing aids) needs to know in order to tell if you could benefit from a hearing aid and, if so, which style and type would help the most.

What should I know about getting hearing aids?

DEAR DOCTOR K: After years of living with hearing loss, I am soon going to get my first hearing aid. Anything I should know ahead of time to be prepared?

DEAR READER: The first thing many new users of hearing aids notice is that sounds seem strange. Think of how different your own voice sounds when you listen to a tape recording of yourself.

Can medications cause hearing loss?

DEAR DOCTOR K:I saw my doctor for some problems with my hearing. Why did she want a detailed list of my medications?

DEAR READER: When you think of risk factors for hearing loss, medications probably aren't at the top of the list. But several over-the-counter and prescription drugs can harm the nerves in the inner ear. This can cause sudden hearing loss, ringing in the ears or vertigo (dizziness). Two studies done by colleagues at Harvard Medical School suggest that frequent use of even the most common pain relievers -- ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and acetaminophen (Tylenol) -- may cause hearing loss.

What can I do to help reduce my tinnitus symptoms?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have tinnitus, and the constant sound is driving me crazy. What can I do?

DEAR READER: Tinnitus is commonly known as ringing in the ears. This phrase can be misleading, however. Some people hear ringing, while others hear whistles or a combination of sounds. Unusual sounds in your ears may seem like a trivial problem -- unless you have it.

My doctor wants me to get two hearing aids — Is this really necessary?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I am losing my hearing, and my doctor wants me to get two hearing aids. Is this really necessary?

DEAR READER: If you're like most people with hearing loss, it's probably taken some time to accept that you need a hearing aid at all, let alone two. If you have hearing loss in only one ear and normal, or nearly normal, hearing in the other, then one hearing aid is all you need.

Is it unhealthy that I can hear my pulse in my ear?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I can hear my heartbeat in my left ear. Should I be worried that I might lose my hearing?

DEAR READER: A condition called tinnitus causes unusual sounds in the ears: high-pitched hisses, lower-pitched buzzing sounds, clicking. This is a remarkably common problem; an estimated 50 million people in the United States have it to some degree.