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Hearing loss can come at any age


HANNIBAL, Mo. -- Dr. Linda Carleton says an early indication of a hearing problem often comes from the reaction of family members.

"A lot of times, they will notice it first," said Carleton, a clinical audiologist with Hannibal Regional Medical Group.

Questions that go unanswered or continued requests to repeat a question can be tell-tale signs of a developing hearing problem.

"If you're age 50 or over, you should schedule an annual hearing screening," Carleton said.

However, Carleton is quick to point out that hearing loss is not restricted to those 50 and older:

º One out of every eight Americans has hearing loss in both ears.

º As many as one in five are hard of hearing on at least one side.

And many of the people in one or both of those categories are not part of the baby-boomer or senior citizen demographic. Teenagers, young adults and others who use iPods also are developing hearing problems.

Hearing tests should be treated the same way as dental, eye or other related examinations. A trained audiologist also can help in other areas and might discover an unrelated problem that could be related to the ear or hearing.

Audiologists can uncover why a person is experiencing balance and related sensory or neural difficulties through a hearing test.

"Using audiometers, computers and other testing devices, we can measure the loudness at which a person begins to hear sounds, the ability to distinguish between sounds and evaluate balance disorders," Carleton said.

Audiologists are trained to interpret the results and may coordinate them with medical, educational and psychological information to make a diagnosis and determine the best treatment.

Hearing aids are a common course of treatment for hearing loss, and the devices can benefit quality of life.

"Today's digital hearing aids are sophisticated instruments that deliver better-quality sound better than ever before, with many different features and benefits," Carleton said. "The appropriate style for an individual depends on an individual's level of hearing loss, lifestyle and budget."

Carleton uses several state-of-the-art instruments to work with patients with hearing loss, including a soundproof booth that prevents unwanted noise from entering the test environment and affecting the integrity of the screening. A hand-held screener is also employed to evaluate the entire audio pathway.

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