How to tell if your hearing isn't tip-top
Hearing loss is the second most common health condition experienced by Australians. That makes it more common than asthma, heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
There can be a fine line between normal functioning and having hearing trouble. Here's how to tell if your hearing isn’t as sharp as it used to be, and when to seek a solution.
How to know if your hearing isn’t tip-top
The breakdown of the hearing system usually happens so gradually that it’s unlikely you’ll notice any change at first.
“A hearing problem is usually first noticed as a loss of clarity rather than volume,” says Dr Elaine Saunders, an award-winning audiological scientist and co-founder of Blamey Saunders Hears.
“Your first clue might be mixing up consonants; you’ll hear ‘tier’ instead of ‘beer’.”
These seemingly small mix-ups can have surprising repercussions, as Dr Saunders personally learned when she attended Parliament House to give a lecture on hearing.
Having told the security officer on duty that she had a laser pointer in her bag for the presentation, Dr Saunders found herself surrounded by armed police demanding to know why she carried such a ‘dangerous’ item. It turns out the security officer had misheard “Laser” as “Taser”.
Other than confusion over consonants, Dr Saunders says the most common signs of hearing loss include:
- Finding it hard to follow a conversation in a crowded room or restaurant. The ear and the brain work together to understand conversation in difficult places, but if your hearing has declined, you may notice it when you’re somewhere noisy and you’re trying to listen.
- Feeling like people are always mumbling. If people you speak to seem, more often than not, to be mumbling, it can be a sign of hearing loss, which makes normal speech sound muffled.
- Receiving frequent complaints about the volume. When people around you claim that your preferred TV or radio volume is uncomfortably loud, it’s worth paying attention because they could be picking up a gradual change in your hearing preferences that isn’t obvious to you.
- Finding it easier to understand men’s voices than women’s or vice versa.
Speech is generated by the vibration of the vocal cords. The frequency at which they vibrate is known as the ‘fundamental frequency’.
Men tend to speak with a fundamental frequency near the middle C note, or 256 hertz. If you find deeper voices easier to detect that means your hearing is likely deteriorating in the upper registers of sound.
Women speak with a fundamental frequency that’s about an octave higher than men, and thus harder to hear for people with a certain kind of hearing loss.
- Experiencing ringing or other noises in your ears. Tinnitus is usually a sign of hearing damage, often caused by too much exposure to loud sound.
What to do if you think your hearing has worsened
Untreated hearing loss can cause a wide range of issues, including poorer mental health and brain function, reduced employment capacity, and, of course, relationship difficulties. That’s why it’s important to identify the problem and find a solution sooner rather than later.
The good news? You can now take hearing tests in the comfort of your home, without a specialist appointment. Blamey Saunders Hears offers a free online test here. Take it now to put to rest any concerns about your hearing.
If your results reveal a hearing loss, the solution may be as simple as having built-up wax removed by a hearing care professional, or it may involve hearing aids. We advise visiting your General Practitioner to rule out an underlying medical condition.
Regardless of your results, there are things you can do to reduce your risk of sustaining hearing damage or causing further hearing damage. Read about them, and more, in our Hearing Advice section.