May is Better Hearing and Speech Month, an annual observance dedicated to raising awareness about communication disorders and promoting better speech and hearing health. The month provides an opportunity for individuals, organizations, and healthcare professionals to come together to educate the public about the warning signs of hearing loss and the importance of early detection.
Hearing loss is a widespread problem that, according to the World Health Organization, affects up to 20% of the worldwide population. It can be caused by a variety of factors, including aging, exposure to loud noises, infections, and genetics.
Hearing loss also can contribute to other health problems when left unaddressed. A recent study found that hearing loss in older adults can put them at higher risk for other age-related conditions, like dementia.
Because of the impact on health, it’s important to recognize warning signs and seek medical attention if you or a loved one is experiencing hearing loss. Early detection and treatment can help prevent further damage and improve overall hearing health. The warning signs of hearing loss can vary depending on the type and severity of the condition but, broadly speaking, a few common ones include:
- Difficulty understanding speech
Difficulty understanding speech includes frequently asking others to repeat themselves, or difficulty hearing consonants like differentiating between “p” and “t.”
- Turning it up
Needing to turn up the volume on the television or radio often could indicate hearing loss. Paying attention to the volume when watching or listening to media is also a good idea because turning up volume too high on personal listening devices can lead to hearing loss.
Captions can help
Captions can help you catch soft-spoken conversations without turning the volume up too high. Here’s 10 more good reasons to turn on the captions.
- Creating a buzz
Creating a buzz usually is a good thing, but if you experience a ringing or buzzing in your ears, it may indicate hearing loss. Ringing in the ears is called tinnitus and the United States Department of Veterans Affairs reports that tinnitus is the most common injury experienced by US Veterans.
According to the World Report on Hearing, roughly 30 million US workers are exposed to hazardous noise levels in their workplace. But with proper education and training on protective equipment, like ear plugs, the risks for incurring workplace related hearing loss can be mitigated. And hearing loss can increase over time as well from exposure to loud noises created by landscaping tools like lawnmowers and leaf blowers, exposure at loud concerts, or exposure from loud construction sites.
With all the risk factors, an awareness campaign like Better Hearing and Speech Month seems like a reasonable public health measure. But aside from looking out for signs of hearing loss, what else can be done to ensure better hearing and communication? Below are a few things you can do this month, or anytime.
- Check your hearing regularly
It’s a good idea to check your hearing levels regularly, especially if you are exposed to loud noises or have other risk factors for hearing loss. You can get your hearing checked by an audiologist, a hearing aid specialist, or your doctor. There’s even an app you can use to get started checking your hearing on your own.
- Protect your health
Since infections can cause hearing loss, reducing the chances of infection can protect overall health as well as hearing. For this reason, the World Health Organization recommends vaccinating for preventable diseases as much as possible.
- Use accessibility aids
In the 21st century, we have a lot of tools available to ensure communication and understanding! Someone experiencing substantial hearing loss may want to talk to a doctor about hearing aids or cochlear implants, but accessibility aids like captions and transcripts are more readily available now than ever and are used every day by millions of people. Captions and transcripts have even been known to improve comprehension and memory! If you’re in a situation where you aren’t sure where or how to access captions, it’s your right to ask. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) states that employers and public spaces must provide equitable access for persons with disabilities.
Better Hearing and Speech Month is an important opportunity to raise awareness and promote better hearing and overall health. By taking steps to protect our hearing and working to make spaces more accessible, we can ensure that everyone has the ability to communicate and participate fully in our communities.