With Audiologist Sharon Rende
Communication disorders can affect people of all ages, from infants to the elderly. According to the Center for Hearing and Communication and the World Health Organization, hearing loss affects nearly 48 million Americans and more than 1.5 billion people globally. So for more than 90 years, we’ve celebrated Better Hearing and Speech Month each May to raise awareness and promote understanding about speech and hearing disorders, as well as encourage people to seek treatment.
Communication Builds Connections
Through this year’s theme, "Building Connections," we highlight the importance of building strong connections through effective communication. Whether it's with family, friends, or colleagues, good communication skills are essential for maintaining healthy relationships. Hearing loss can greatly impact your quality of life and your mental and physical health by affecting your ability to communicate. If left untreated, hearing loss may even result in:
- Social isolation/Loneliness
- Cognitive decline/Dementia
- Balance issues/falls
- Stress/high blood pressure
Recognizing Speech and Hearing Disorders in Children
Better Speech and Hearing month is also a time to encourage parents to identify any potential speech, language or hearing problems their children may be experiencing. These problems can significantly impact learning, as well as social and emotional health. Even a mild hearing loss can harm a child’s ability to speak, learn and interact with others.
Signs that your child may have a hearing loss include:
- Abnormal speech for their age
- Delayed language skills
- Listening to TV or music at high volumes
- Learning difficulties
- Not responding to their name or loud sounds
- Not paying attention to conversations
- Asking “Huh?” and “What?”
- Fatigue or irritability after school
The Importance of Intervention
Early intervention is critical in addressing communication disorders. The earlier a communication disorder is detected and treated, the better the chances for positive outcomes. This is particularly true for children, as their brains are still developing and they are in a critical period for learning language and communication skills.
So why do people wait an average of seven years before seeking treatment for hearing loss? Often, people avoid seeking help because of the stigma or because they’re in denial. Sometimes it’s confusion on where to start the process. But you have to look for the signs.
Signs that you may have a hearing problem include:
- Having to ask people to repeat themselves or to speak louder
- Speech sounds soft and muffled (“If only they didn’t mumble…”)
- Trouble hearing high pitched sounds (birds, doorbells, telephone)
- Having to look at a person’s face in order to understand them
- Being unable to hear in a group conversation, especially in noise
- Listening to the TV at a high volume
- Experiencing a ringing in your ears or pain
- Increasing balance or dizziness problems
Treatment and Prevention
Treatment for communication disorders can vary depending on the specific condition and its severity. Some common treatments include medical, surgical or technological options, such as hearing aids or cochlear implants, as well as speech or voice therapy. The goal of treatment is to improve communication skills and enhance quality of life.
In addition to seeking out treatment, there are also steps you can take to support better communication with those who may be struggling. This includes speaking clearly and slowly, using visual aids when possible, reducing background noise, and being patient when communicating with someone who has a communication disorder.
But preventing hearing loss from occurring in the first place, if possible, is even better.
Noise is now being recognized as a public health issue affecting the hearing of individuals of all ages. We live in a very noisy world and are exposed daily to things that can damage our hearing, such as listening to music with earbuds at high volumes. (Rule of thumb is to keep the volume below 60%. Instead of turning the volume up, consider using noise cancelling headphones.)
Monitor your hearing health by making it part of your annual wellness checks.
Hearing Health Matters!
If you’re living with untreated hearing or communication disorders, talk to a doctor about diagnosis and treatment options. Your primary care doctor can get you on the right track, or you can make an appointment with an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist at Sarasota Memorial’s Otolaryngology Head and Neck Center.
Need help finding a specialist? Our HealthLine physician referral team can help: Click here or call 941-917-7777.