Sounds of spring often go unheard

Day by day

Sounds of spring often go unheard

LIZ THOMPSON
May 3, 2016

This Week Newspapers

Spring is in full swing and along with it comes birdsong, children’s laughter, wind chimes gently clanging in the breeze, rain splattering on the roof and windows, thunderstorms and — on the warm days — quiet conversations on decks, porches, patios and in campgrounds and parks.

All this delicious activity we wait for all winter long. But for about 20 percent of Americans — 48 million people — with some degree of hearing loss, these springtime gifts are diminished.

These millions can see the birds, but can’t hear the songs.

They see the children laughing.

These millions can see the wind chimes moving in the wind, but the melodious sounds elude them.

The lightning of a storm is present for these many, but the thunder might only be felt, not heard.

They see the rain hitting the windowpanes, but no pitter-patter sound meets their ears.

But most disheartening of all is the inability to carry on a conversation. Words are muddled or lost, and the meaning of a conversation is beyond their comprehension.

They sit feeling the warmth of the sun and watch the words being spoken; the jokes they won’t get or be able to repeat.

These same people use what they can to make sense of the noisy world we live in through touch, vision, taste and smell.

Many simply withdraw. It’s tiring trying to understand.

Even the best lip reader will grasp only a small percentage of a conversation.

I’m one of the millions with hearing loss.

At 39, I got my long-overdue first hearing aid and heard bacon sizzling for the first time in years. I was terrified during a spring storm. But my loving husband took me outside and explained the noises that had been lost for so many years, and my fear subsided.

The world of sound was partially back, but not for long. By 50, I was deaf, but with the miracle of a cochlear implant, hearing was restored with a clarity I might never have had in my entire life with hearing loss.

I had said, “Huh?” so often in my life that I had to unlearn using it.

But I’m still deaf when the batteries die.

For those who understood words prior to hearing loss and can no longer understand the world around them, it’s lonely. The noise of this world is creating more people who have hearing loss every day.

Causes include excessive noise, medications, heredity, viruses, disease, ear malformations, tumors, head trauma and aging.

Noise-induced hearing loss can be prevented. The loudness of sound is measured in units called decibels.

Some common sounds and their noise levels are: 20 dB, rustling leaves; 60 dB, normal conversations or dishwashers; 60-70 dB, normal piano practice; 80 dB, alarm clocks; 90 dB, hair dryers, blenders and lawnmowers; 100 dB, MP3 players at full volume; 110 dB, concerts (any music genre), car racing and sporting events; 130 dB, ambulances and fire-engine sirens; 140 dB, gunshots, fireworks and custom car stereos at full volume.

It is worth the time to find ear protection. Even musicians who mostly make beautiful sounds can use special ear protection to keep performing and enjoying music for years to come.

The noise is too loud when: you have to raise your voice to be understood by someone standing nearby; the noise hurts your ears; you develop a buzzing or ringing sound in your ears; or you don’t hear as well as you normally do until several hours after you get away from the noise.

Excessive exposure to loud noise also can cause stress, illness, sleep disruption and high blood pressure.

At age 65, one in three people has some hearing loss.

About two to three of every 1,000 children are hard of hearing or deaf. It is estimated that 30 schoolchildren per 1,000 have hearing loss.

Childhood noise risks include noisy toys, sporting events, band class, motorbikes, farm equipment, movie theaters, shop class, arcades, concerts, firearms, fireworks, power tools and MP3 players.

If you suspect you or your child has hearing loss, see an ear, nose and throat doctor or your primary-care physician to rule out any medical condition.

May is Better Speech and Hearing Month. It’s a good time to remember the value of our hearing and ability to communicate.

Life’s too short to miss the music of laughter. It’s nice to understand why others are laughing, too.

For more information, visit hearingloss.org.

At age 65, one in three people has some hearing loss. About two to three of every 1,000 children are hard of hearing or deaf.

 

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