Enough with the mumbling: 4 things I learned about premature hearing loss

Originally posted May 2017

So, I got some hearing aids today.

Not a sentence I thought I’d type in at least another 10 years, if ever.

I’m not sure what finally drove me to make the appointment with the ENT. Maybe I finally had enough of uttering, “Say that again?” repeatedly at work, or of telling my kids that if they wanted to speak to me that they had to stand right in front of me — that yelling from the next room didn’t work.

Or maybe after convincing myself that Game of Thrones dialogue is entirely in the tongue of Beowulf.

Or that time my daughter asked me if the Illuminati are dead, and I answered, “I think Lou Malnati is dead and his sons run the business.”

It was just over a month ago that I found myself in an ENT’s office, well over a year after I had mentioned to my doctor that I needed to get my ears checked. I finally made the appointment, pretty sure the doctor would yank out a ball of wax built up from wearing ear plugs at night. I even texted my daughter from the waiting room:


(*Comment deleted to protect certain individuals (myself) from publicly indicating maturity level when stressed)

So, when post-audiogram the ENT says to me, “Well, the good news is you wouldn’t qualify for the draft,” I knew something was up. Then he looked me straight in the eye and asked, “Why did you wait this long to come in?” And when he showed me on my audiogram where male and female voices register and that it wasn’t in a place I can hear unless spoken to at more than 70 decibels, I was shocked. I mean, I knew my hearing wasn’t perfect, but … yikes.

I’m only 48. I still shop at the Gap, for crying out loud. I still have a high schooler. No grandkids. Haven’t even been to a friend’s kid’s wedding yet. How can I possibly need hearing aids?

I allowed myself a single pity cry on the way home from my appointment. And then I realized, I can act embarrassed over something I have no control of, or I can bedazzle the shit out of my hearing aids and make everyone wish they had them too.

So here is what I have learned so far about premature hearing loss:

  1. At first glance, there’s not a ton of relatable info out there. Lots of medical journal stuff, and certainly not much that explains why your ears crapped out on you. No, this much hearing loss at 48 is not typical. And short of something realistic to point to, like a head injury or a bomb blast, it’s most likely mine is genetic, although there was one recent study correlating the use of NSAIDs and acetaminophen with a higher risk for hearing loss. And I have swallowed my fair share of Advil. As for lifestyle choices, I’ve been to plenty of concerts, but I’ve never hit the mosh pit or stood right in front of the speakers. I don’t work in a factory, I work in an office. My lifestyle is pretty typical noise-wise.
  2. Hearing loss like mine is pretty much irreparable. If I was a chicken, there’s an outside chance at regrowing cilla, but right now, humans can’t do that. So. (I will NOT bungee jump, so I may look and act like a chicken, but it’s still not happening.)
  3. Hearing aids are expensive. Like, “there goes your vacation” expensive. This leads me to believe there is a much larger population of people that could benefit from hearing aids, but forgo them because they don’t have $5000 to plunk down on them.
  4. Hearing aids shouldn’t be thought of as a “nice to have.” They’re a “need to have.” Sure, you can make your way through the day trying to decipher every mumble, nodding politely in agreement whenever you can’t hear someone and are too embarrassed to ask them to repeat themselves and missing every other joke in a sitcom. These things are not the end of the world. But the extra energy exerted by your brain trying to make sense of what you can’t hear is not healthy, and studies have shown a significant increased risk in Alzheimer’s Disease associated with untreated hearing loss. That there is a dealbreaker for me. I can live with hearing aids if it means I get to keep my grey matter intact for a little longer.

I’ve been wearing the aids for just over six hours, and they’re pretty impressive right out of the gate. You can read here about the particular brand — gotta love Apple compatibility — and I like that I can stream calls straight to my ears. I have discovered my turn signal in the car does in fact make a noise, as does my computer mouse. And the exhaust fan on my stove really is loud. Mostly, it’s just nice not to have to work so hard to latch on to another human being’s voice.

It took me over a year to get checked out — a year after probably several more during which I knew I had a problem. If you’re saying “What?” more often than not, get checked, regardless of your age. You won’t regret it.

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