John M. Burkey—
A quick glance across the room drew my attention to the “Big Book of Worms.” Not surprisingly, this wasn’t the correct title to the brightly colored children’s book. Perhaps my misperception had been the result of poor lighting, my inner wish to be elsewhere fishing, or just bad eyesight. Regardless, a second look and quick tilt of the head brought the “Big Book of Words” into clear focus through the progressive lenses in my eyeglasses. Wearing glasses corrected this harmless misunderstanding and fortunately prevents countless others.
Millions of people with hearing loss experience similar mishaps. “Thing” may sound like “sing” or “sin” like “fin.” Words can go missing entirely, leaving whole sentences impossible to interpret. Stranger still can be when a person unconsciously fills in missed letters or words to create the hearing equivalent of the “Big Book of Worms.”
Misunderstandings can be amusing for the individual and others—but usually not. The recurring and sometimes unpredictable nature of these hearing difficulties interferes with everyday communication, causing frustration and embarrassment. Some people give up the struggle and withdraw from social interaction to become isolated from the people and activities they most enjoy. Beyond misunderstandings are genuine safety concerns such as blaring alarms or sirens going unnoticed or a person crossing the street failing to hear an approaching car or truck.
People who are struggling to see usually act on their own or with only minimal prodding to get glasses, contact lenses, or perhaps even Lasik surgery. They address the problem because they recognize that their lives are being affected. Those with hearing loss are more likely to deny, ignore, or try to hide their difficulty. They hesitate to ask hearing related advice from friends or family and more often than not fail to seek professional help.
As with vision problems, there are a variety of options for people with hearing loss. Something can almost always be done to improve the situation. It may be simple such as using an amplified telephone or closed captioning on the television. Hearing aids may be another option. Some hearing problems can even be corrected or vastly improved through surgery.
Unfortunately, most people don’t know what to do when confronted with a hearing loss. As a result they do nothing as their quality of life becomes increasingly diminished. The key to avoiding this spiral is to act. See an audiologist or ear, nose, and throat doctor. Explore websites to find hearing related products that might be of use (Google “assistive listening devices”). Search your library or bookstore for helpful titles. Find people who are successfully coping with their own hearing difficulties and get their advice or go to the Hearing Loss Association of America website and find a support group. See what can be done to shoo away some of the worms.
John M. Burkey is the director of audiology at the Lippy Group for ENT in Warren, Ohio.