By Doug Morin
Executive Director, Coachella Valley Volunteers in Medicine
Do you know that your ears never stop hearing, even when you sleep? Your brain just ignores incoming sounds. And that your sense of hearing is dependent on tiny hairs deep inside your ear, and if you lose those hairs you lose your hearing? And that you don’t have to clean wax out of your ears unless you have an abnormal condition – ears push excess wax out as needed. But ears can be troublesome.
According to the Hearing Loss Association of America, more than 360 million people in the world have disabling hearing loss. Hearing loss may result from genetic causes, complications at birth, chronic ear infections, some drugs, excessive noise, and of course, aging. But people with hearing loss can be helped with hearing aids, cochlear implants and devices, sign language and other forms of support. Interestingly, half of all hearing loss can be prevented by immunizing children against diseases like measles, meningitis, rubella and mumps. About 20 percent of Americans (48 million) report some degree of hearing loss. At age 65, one out of three people has a hearing loss and some 15% of school-age children (ages 6-19) have a degree of hearing loss. Unfortunately, today’s average hearing aids can cost $3,000 – $6,000.
Most cases of hearing loss in adults stem from damage to the inner ear where tiny hair cells turn sound vibrations into impulses that nerve cells then carry to the brain. The most common causes of that damage are aging and chronic exposure to loud noises. A family history of severe hearing loss could signal that you’re at increased risk.
In age-related hearing loss, changes in the inner ear that happen as you get older causes a slow but steady hearing loss. Other causes include earwax buildup, an object in the ear, injury to the ear or head, ear infection, and a ruptured eardrum. An estimated 50 million Americans experience tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and 90% of them also have hearing loss. An estimated 1 in 5 American teens experience some degree of hearing loss, and 80% of teens with hearing loss report that it is due to loud noise. Even a mild hearing loss can cause a child to miss as much as 50% of classroom discussion.
Locally, there’s a wonderful nonprofit that founder Fred McClory named “Ears 4 Me” that provides simple hearing screenings and inexpensive hearing amplifiers if they will be helpful to the client. Find Ears4Me.org for details. The devices are inexpensive or free, depending on the needs of the client and product availability. While these inexpensive amplifiers are not true hearing aids, in many cases they are enough to return the client to a more normal life. Fred McClory visits Coachella Valley Visitors in Medicine (CVVIM) in Indio once a month and you can contact him at (760) 776-4849 to discuss your needs and, if possible, help you hear.