Hearing Loss and Aging (cont.)

Conductive hearing loss happens when something blocks the sounds that are carried from the eardrum (tympanic membrane) to the inner ear. Ear wax buildup, fluid in the middle ear, abnormal bone growth, a punctured eardrum, or a middle ear infection can cause this type of hearing loss. If ear wax blockage is a problem for you, the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery suggests using mild treatments, such as mineral oil, baby oil, glycerin, or commercial ear drops to soften ear wax. If you think you may have a hole in your eardrum, however, you should see your doctor.

How Can I Help a Person with Hearing Loss?

Here are some tips you can use when talking with someone who has a hearing problem:

  • Face the person and talk clearly.
  • Speak at a reasonable speed; do not hide your mouth, eat, or chew gum.
  • Stand in good lighting and reduce background noises.
  • Use facial expressions or gestures to give useful clues.
  • Repeat yourself if necessary, using different words.
  • Include the hearing-impaired person when talking. Talk with the person, not about the person, when you are with others. This helps keep the hearing-impaired person from feeling alone and excluded.
  • Be patient; stay positive and relaxed.
  • Ask how you can help.

What Can I Do if I Have Trouble Hearing?

  • Let people know that you have trouble hearing.
  • Ask people to face you, and to speak more slowly and clearly; also ask them to speak without shouting.
  • Pay attention to what is being said and to facial expressions or gestures.
  • Let the person talking know if you do not understand.
  • Ask people to reword a sentence and try again.

What Devices or Treatments Can Help?

What will help you depends on your hearing problem. Some common solutions include:

  • Hearing aids. These are small devices you wear in or behind your ear. Hearing aids can help some kinds of hearing loss by making sounds louder. However, they sometimes pick up background noises - for example, traffic noise in the street or people talking at other tables in a crowded restaurant. This can affect how well you hear in certain situations. Before buying a hearing aid, check to find out if your insurance will cover the cost. There are many kinds of hearing aids. An audiologist can help fit you with the hearing aid that will work best for you. You can ask the audiologist about having a trial period to try out a few different aids.

Remember, when you buy a hearing aid, you are buying a product and a service. Find a hearing aid dealer (called a dispenser) who has the patience and skill to help you during the month or so it takes to get used to the new hearing aid.

You may need to have several fittings of your hearing aid, and you will need to get directions on how to use it. Hearing aids use batteries, which you will need to change on a regular basis. They also may need repairs from time to time. Buy a hearing aid that has only the features you need.

  • Assistive/Adaptive Devices. There are many products that can help you live well with less-than-perfect hearing. The list below includes some examples of the many choices:
    • Telephone amplifying devices range from a special type of telephone receiver that makes sounds louder to special phones that work with hearing aids.
    • TV and radio listening systems can be used with or without hearing aids. You do not have to turn the volume up high.
    • Assistive listening devices are available in some public places such as auditoriums, movie theaters, churches, synagogues, and meeting places.
    • Alerts such as doorbells, smoke detectors, and alarm clocks can give you a signal that you can see or a vibration that you can feel. For example, a flashing light could let you know someone is at the door or that the phone is ringing.
  • Cochlear implants. If your deafness is severe, a doctor may suggest cochlear implants. In this surgery, the doctor puts a small electronic device under the skin behind the ear. The device sends the message past the non-working part of the inner ear and on to the brain. This process helps some people hear. These implants are not helpful for all types of deafness or hearing loss.

For More Information

There are many things you can do about hearing loss.

The first step is to check with your doctor. You also can get more information from the following groups:

National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD)
NIDCD Information Clearinghouse National Institutes of Health
31 Center Drive, MSC 2320
Bethesda, MD 20892-2320
Phone: 1-800-241-1044 (toll-free)
TTY: 1-800-241-1055

American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, Inc. (AAO-HNS)
1 Prince Street
Alexandria, VA 22314-3357
Phone: 703-836-4444
TTY: 703-519-1585

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA)
10801 Rockville Pike
Rockville, MD 20852
Phone: 1-800-638-8255 (toll-free/voice/TTY)

American Tinnitus Association (ATA)
P.O. Box 5
Portland, OR 97207-0005
Phone: 1-800-634-8978 (toll-free)

Self Help for Hard of Hearing People, Inc. (SHHH)
7910 Woodmont Avenue Suite 1200
Bethesda, MD 20814
Phone: 301-657-2248
TTY: 301-657-2249

Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center
Gallaudet University
800 Florida Avenue, NE
Washington, DC 20002-3695
Phone: 202-651-5000 (voice and TTY)

Source: National Institute of Aging, National Institutes of Health

Last Editorial Review: 3/21/2006