Healthy Habits: Hearing Loss Awareness

Motherhood Moments conducted a Q&A with Hearing Health Foundation.

1. A lot of parents don't realize how prevalent hearing issues can be. What hearing disorders are there besides being totally deaf? 
There are many types of hearing disorders and gradations of hearing loss. In fact, over 50 million Americans have some form of hearing loss, including 1 in 5 teens and 60% of returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. Tinnitus (ringing in the ears) is also widespread, affecting 20% of Americans, with hearing loss occurring in 90% of those cases. Hearing loss is a huge social issue that has both economic and social consequences. For example, hearing loss can make it harder to obtain and maintain a job. It is also highly associated with serious medical problems like diabetes and dementia. In fact, studies show that those with even mild hearing loss are twice as likely to develop dementia. With serious consequences like these, hearing loss deserves significant attention and research support. At HHF, we are proud to be funding research for cure for hearing loss and tinnitus Information about the many types of hearing disorders can be found on our website in HHF’s online dictionary. 

2. How can parents support families that have a child with hearing loss? 
Universal hearing screening for newborns has helped to identify most children with hearing issues quickly and accurately. With simple tests, 80 to 90 percent of hearing loss can be detected, and children can begin early intervention with the best possible outcomes for language development. However, even if your child passed the newborn screening at birth, hearing loss that is genetic or progressive may not appear until later, when a child is a toddler or older. It is important to identify the signs that may suggest a possible hearing loss in your child as quickly as possible, so that the next steps can be taken: testing, followed by appropriate treatment and management. 

The signs your child may have a hearing loss include:

  • If your child doesn’t respond to repeated entreaties—especially when you’re not facing him or her.

  • A baby who doesn’t react to a sudden noise, such as a toy dropping to the floor, may have a hearing loss.

  • Evolutionarily speaking, humans (and all animals) make sounds in reaction to hearing sounds, so a hearing loss can be indicated when a baby does not make word-like sounds, such as “gaga” or “dada” by 10 months of age.

  • Speech milestones are critical for making sure your child’s development—and hearing—are on track.

Talk to your pediatrician if you have any concerns, no matter how slight. 

3. Sometimes hearing loss doesn't happen until adulthood. Can you share some of your story? 
I first became involved with HHF in 2010, when I retired from Wall Street and was searching for a way to give back in the area of hearing loss. I have a genetic hearing loss, as did my father and grandmother, and I knew this was an area where I could make a difference When I first heard about the Hearing Restoration Project, I was thrilled, and immediately wanted to be a part of it. I am in my third year as Chairman of the Board of Hearing Health Foundation and am even more excited about the prospects of a cure for hearing loss and tinnitus. 

When you have hearing loss, it impacts your life almost every minute of every day. Whether it is trying to hear schedule announcements at the train station, watching TV, hearing the waiter discuss the specials at a restaurant, or talking with a shy child, having hearing loss makes everyday tasks more challenging. Socializing becomes less fun, particularly in settings with significant background noise. Movies and plays are harder to enjoy. Communication in general takes more effort and concentration than it does for those without hearing loss, and can sometimes be exhausting. 

Supportive family and friends are key, as is advocating for yourself. I have now begun to request quiet tables at restaurants and to remind friends to face me when they speak to me. Being vocal about your hearing loss can make a big difference in enhancing communication and improving the quality of your life. 

4. What tips do you have for people when they're interacting with someone who has hearing loss?
There are many myths and misconceptions about people with hearing loss. In order to better interact with someone with hearing loss, please avoid the following misconceptions: 

Myths and Facts HL.png

5. What does HHF do? 
HHF’s mission is to prevent and cure hearing loss and tinnitus through groundbreaking research. Since 1958, HHF has been the largest private funder of hearing and balance research. HHF has been a leader in driving new innovations and treatments for people with hearing loss for more than fifty years. This includes funding research that led to the development of cochlear implants and many of today’s standard treatments for otosclerosis (abnormal bone growth in the ear) and ear infections. 

Today, HHF continues to support groundbreaking research in hearing, through the search for a biological cure for hearing loss and tinnitus. HHF’s Hearing Restoration Project (HRP) aims to achieve just that in the next 10 years. HRP officially launched in 2011 and is currently funding 5 projects from its consortium scientists, but the initial discovery that led to the HRP came many years before. Many types of hearing loss result from damage to the delicate hair cells of the inner ear. Humans can't regrow these cells—but in a game-changing breakthrough in 1987, HHF-funded scientists discovered that birds can. Chickens can naturally regenerate their inner ear hair cells, restoring their hearing after damage.

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