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Welcome to Better Hearing and Speech Month

I recently read that May is national smile month. I knew it was also Better Hearing and Speech month, so I wondered what other things we mark during a year. I began to look into it and was amazed at what I found. There’s a month set aside for almost everything!

There’s the food, of course. We have national pizza month, ice cream month, honey month and, get ready, No Nut November! February is National Bird-feeding month, and March is Mustache month. There’s a month for financial literacy, second chances, and of course our beloved pets. And the list goes on and on.

I’m not sure how you celebrate these things. Do you eat pizza first then have ice cream with honey but no nuts, while you smile, pet your dog, grow a mustache, and feed the birds? I have yet to figure that out.  

These months are a bit frivolous, but they can be fun. Who doesn’t want to eat ice cream for 30 straight days? On a more serious note, however, almost every month of the year is also dedicated to human health. From brain and breast cancer to Alzheimer’s and heart disease, we are encouraged to learn about the prevention and treatments of these conditions in order to enhance or possibly even save our lives. A great American idea.

May, as you now know, is set apart to raise awareness of hearing, speech and language disorders and the many treatments that are now available. We also take time in May to thank the audiologists, speech therapists, physicians, scientists, and other professionals who help patients deal with these maladies and continue to search for new treatments and possibly even cures.

Since it’s the proper month to do so, let’s focus on hearing loss. The first thing that comes to mind to correct hearing loss is hearing instruments, better known as hearing aids. I’ve worn hearing aids for a number of years and can’t imagine my life without them. Being able to hear even the faintest sounds is wonderful. I especially enjoy hearing the birds chirp and wind blow through the trees. I’m thankful that I was diagnosed before it was too late to correct the loss. And I’m grateful that over-the-counter (OTC) and online hearing aids weren’t available at the time. Like many people today, I might have thought that was the way to go. I know, I know, the price and the convenience are tempting, but it’s simply not a good idea for most people. Here’s why.

It’s important to realize that hearing instruments are a medical device. If you need a pacemaker, you first go to a cardiologist for an evaluation. Then he/she explains which pacemaker is right for you and why. Like the cardiologist, an audiologist will fit you with hearing instruments that are best suited to your particular hearing loss and needs. What you get online will definitely not be tailored to you. Another analogy is glasses. A person with an astigmatism won’t see any better by using reading glasses from the pharmacy. He/she needs a prescription. 

Finding out why you have hearing loss is also super important. It may be caused by something as simple as working in a loud environment for many years, heredity, or the normal aging process. However, it could be because of a physical condition that you’re unaware of. It may be the result of otoscleroisis, a disease that makes it harder for the bones of the middle ear to vibrate, or Meniere’s disease, which is an inner ear problem that causes hearing loss, dizziness, and ringing in the ears. Autoimmune inner ear disease occurs when the body attacks itself. In this case the loss can happen very quickly and needs the immediate attention of a physician. Some antibiotics can cause hearing loss, as well as a disease known as NF2, which is characterized by noncancerous tumors on the hearing nerve of the brain. If these things sound scary, it’s because they are.

Another reason to think twice about the OTC/online route is that those aids are not meant for people with severe hearing loss. Someone with mild to moderate hearing loss may benefit somewhat from the amplification, but others may actually be harmed by wearing them. Hearing loss occurs at various frequencies. The hearing instruments need to be programmed specifically for each person. The OTC aids may not stimulate the right part of the brain, leading to permanent damage to those areas.

With OTC aids you won’t get any follow-up care. If it turns out the hearing aids really don’t help, you’ve spent money for nothing. An audiologist will work with you, no matter how long it takes, to ensure you’re hearing as well as possible. As for cost, audiologists have instruments in a wide range of prices. He/she will be able to fit you with aids that will improve your hearing at a very reasonable price. There are “no interest payment plans” available, as well.

Unlike some of the other things we celebrate each month, take Better Hearing and Speech month seriously. People with untreated hearing loss are much more likely to get diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, depression, and a host of other conditions. Make an appointment to have your hearing checked, and if you need hearing instruments, don’t head to the corner pharmacy. Unless, of course, you need a mustache trimmer during Mustache month.

Claudia Hensen's Blog Series