Untreated hearing loss: what are the consequences?
Our sense of hearing is something we often take for granted. Unfortunately, hearing loss is more common than many people realise, affecting 1 in 6 Australians and expected to affect as many as 1 in 4 by the year 2050.
And it is not just an ailment of old age. The average age of the onset of hearing loss is approximately 55 for men and 62 for women, although hearing loss can strike at any time and any age, even during childhood.
Everyone experiences hearing loss differently and when left untreated, it can have many negative social and health impacts that go far beyond the hearing impairment itself. Read on to find out how hearing loss can impact you physically, socially, and psychologically if left untreated.
1. Voice & Vocabulary
Untreated hearing loss can influence your voice in two ways. First, it may change the way your voice sounds, both to yourself and to others. Secondly, it can affect the perceived volume at which you talk, as people tend to speak louder to compensate for the auditory loss.
Particular sounds and letters can also become more difficult to hear and understand as frequencies are lost. As time goes on, the brain adjusts to not hearing the sounds associated with those frequencies and certain words begin to lose their crispness. This can impact the way speech is interpreted and used.
2. Enjoying Music, Movies and Television
Subtitles can become a necessity as hearing loss begins to take away your ability to understand speech and sounds in movies or on television. This is especially true when the actors aren’t facing the audience, have facial hair, or wear masks, if the dialogue is spoken in romantic soft whispers, or if there are loud explosions, roaring fires and crashing cars.
3. Conversations in Noise
For people with untreated hearing loss, noisy environments such as restaurants, bars or other loud group settings can make conversations really difficult. Disruptive noises like clanging dishes, thumping music, and the din of many conversations going on at once can make listening and understanding nearly impossible.
4. Love, Family Relationships and Friendships
Untreated hearing loss does not only affect you as an individual, it also has an impact on your relationships, especially the closest ones.
Romantic relationships are most likely to suffer and become strained. In today’s busy world, romantic relationships often thrive on finding brief, spontaneous and meaningful moments to connect emotionally, which are often unscripted. However, with untreated hearing loss, romance and spontaneity often have to be put aside as cues are missed and communication must be planned. This can lead to feelings of frustration, annoyance, sadness and ignorance for partners of people experiencing hearing loss.
Family relationships can also be affected and become challenging. When children are small, it could potentially be a dangerous situation if you can’t hear their cries. As children are older, it can be difficult to engage and understand them, and they might think you don’t care or aren’t interested in what they are trying to communicate. Needless to say, this can be emotionally difficult for the entire family.
Friendships and social relationships can also suffer. For example, if friends don’t realise you have hearing loss, they may think you are a poor listener or don’t really care about them. This communication mix-up could cause social withdrawal, avoidance of social events, and eventually social rejection and loneliness.
5. Work Performance and Relations
Untreated hearing loss can put a strain on work relations and hinder your occupational performance in a variety of ways, all of which can be detrimental to overall production. The most obvious examples are difficulty hearing colleagues at important meetings or clients on phone calls, and trouble interacting with employees. But untreated hearing loss can cause other less obvious work performance issues. It can lead to listening fatigue at work, affecting your ability to focus and retain information, and it can also impact attitude, as stress and lack of energy become overwhelming. These issues can result in an inability to ‘climb the ladder’, reduced earning power, and in some cases loss of employment.
6. Health Risks
Untreated hearing loss has been documented to result in a range of negative physiological effects including increased speech comprehension difficulties, auditory deprivation, and brain atrophy.
Numerous studies have also linked untreated hearing loss to:
- Irritability, negativism and anger
- Headaches and tension
- Reduced Alertness
- Impaired memory
- Impaired ability to learn new tasks
- Diminished psychological and overall health
- Dementia and Alzheimers
Untreated hearing loss can significantly impair your ability to respond effectively during emergency situations. Being unable to hear a fire alarm or someone approaching from behind can be dangerous. The same can be said of various emergency signals which don’t always combine auditory and visual indicators.
8. Quality of life
There are many ways untreated hearing loss can lessen your quality of life. From not being able to hear ambulance sirens when you need to give way, to missing your final boarding call at the airport, untreated hearing loss can cause you to miss out on a lot of things in life.
For children with hearing loss, even a mild or moderate case of hearing loss could cause learning difficulties, issues with speech development, and problems building the important interpersonal skills necessary to foster self-esteem and succeed in school and life.
Hearing loss is unique to each person, so it can be hard to diagnose when someone is experiencing it. If you suspect yourself or a loved one may suffer from hearing loss, take the first step towards better hearing, better relationships and improved quality of life by taking our online hearing test or booking an appointment with one of our qualified audiologists.