Early hearing loss? You can do this to hear better

It rains advice to prevent hearing damage, but what if your hearing is already damaged?

Helen van Lier

“I feel a heavy butt,” Dutch writer Manon Spierenburg heard an interlocutor say at a party. After a long time and more absurd conversations, it dawned on her that the man had probably said something completely different and that she suffers from hearing loss. Health organizations regularly point to the prevention of hearing damage: “Decibels down, wear hearing protection, take sound breaks.” But according to Spierenburg, little attention is paid to those who already suffer from it.

According to clinical physicist-audiologist Dyon Scheijen, people often walk around unnecessarily long with hearing complaints because of this. “Cure is often not possible, but we can really help most people function better.”

“Noise damage is just one of the many causes of hearing problems,” says Pim van Dijk, professor of audiology at the University Medical Center in Groningen. “Old age, a genetic predisposition, illness or medication can also cause things to go wrong.”

For all those patients, the question is: what are my prospects? Van Dijk: “We can be brief about mechanical damage to the ear. A clot or fluid in the middle ear can still be remedied, but a little further in the ear the damage is irreparable.”

Hearing aids and implants

Usually it concerns damaged hair cells, the sensitive receptors that absorb vibrations. “There are promising animal experiments with hair cell regeneration, but that is in the future,” says Robert Stokroos, professor and NKO department head at UMC Utrecht. Until then, you will have to make do with a hearing aid that amplifies sounds.

Hearing aids are becoming more and more advanced. For example, you can use an app to search for your ideal institution, foreign languages ​​with it translate and connect them to TV, telephone or baby monitor. Or with sound equipment in theaters, or in a restaurant with a microphone around your date’s neck. This somewhat overcomes the lack of hierarchy in sound amplification, which normally makes them work poorly in noisy rooms.

If the cochlea is broken, making the sound louder is useless. Then a cochlear implant (CI) can convert sound into electrical signals. “However, hearing aids and implants remain stopgap aids. Sound will always sound different and some never get used to it,” says Stokroos. “That is why we insist on prevention.”

The role of the brain

But there is another side to the story, says Rilana Cima, program leader of Adelante’s tinnitus expertise center and affiliated with Maastricht University. “The brain plays a role in the auditory system that should not be underestimated. It filters signals that the mechanical ear perceives, but it can also fill in sounds that are not there. The brain can compensate for lost audio with phantom sounds, such as a beep or hiss.” According to Cima, tinnitus should be seen as a disorder of the brain. “The solution must also be sought here. Saying that nothing can be done about hearing problems is counterproductive. The moment the system sees tinnitus as a threat, the internal alarm can go off. The sounds are then no longer filtered out.”

The cognitive behavioral therapy developed by Cima at Adelante, a scientifically proven treatment method for tinnitus, trains the brain to no longer perceive the sounds as danger, for example through exposure techniques with loud noises and mindfulness exercises. This makes tinnitus manageable in most people, says Cima.

The brain also plays an important role in hyperacusis: sounds are not filtered properly, so that too many stimuli come in and the sound is experienced as painful and overwhelming. Stokroos: “Patients tend to shield themselves from all sounds and wear hearing protection all day long. You should not do that, as this will further unbalance your cognitive filter.”

Social situations and quality of life

In addition, according to Stokroos, hearing loss patients often avoid social situations. Writer Spierenburg noticed this too, who stopped going to parties after the heavy ass conversation. Stokroos: “Our entire society is geared towards verbal communication. We see that hearing impaired people find conversations tiring and feel bad because they can no longer keep up. Then they withdraw, which can cause cognitive decline.”

“Psychological support and the right aids can help in dealing with hearing damage,” says Marjolijn Dekker of the Dutch patient association Hoormij/NVVS. “Don’t be ashamed to explain how someone can best communicate with you and, for example, to put a microphone on your date in a restaurant that is connected to your hearing aid.” She refers to Euro Trakthe largest study on hearing issues, showing that 95 percent of hearing aid users experience a higher quality of life and less social isolation.

According to Spierenburg, her situation improved when she came out as hard of hearing. “By keeping it to myself, I became the very social pariah I didn’t want to be. But to my utter surprise, everyone was more than willing to fall on deaf ears. Everyone took into account that I sometimes had delays on the line.”

Hear better

Be open about your hearing problem and explain how someone can best communicate with you. For example, ask if someone wants to stand closer, without backlight, look at you, speak calmly with clear articulation. You unconsciously read speech through mouth movements. You can get better at this with special training.

Ask for support in your work from a professional hearing coach. A coach can point you to resources for your situation and help you improve your workplace, for example with sound panels.

Listening takes a lot of energy. Take a five-minute quiet break every hour, in a special room at work or with a silencer.

Bron: Hoormij/NVVS

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