You may not know that May is Hearing Awareness Month in Canada. You also may not know that over three million Canadians are affected by hearing loss. But, according to Statistics Canada, hearing loss is one of the most prevalent and fastest growing chronic conditions facing Canadians today.

Hearing loss is permanent

Statistics Canada also reports that approximately 70 percent of adult Canadians with measured hearing loss were not aware they had hearing problems. For this reason, a thorough hearing evaluation by an audiologist is essential, whether to measure a healthy hearing baseline or to identify the existence of hearing loss and plan the appropriate treatment.
“Many people go between 7 and 15 years noticing they have a problem with their hearing but doing nothing about it,” says Bill Hodgetts, an Associate Professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at the University of Alberta. “People often delay getting treatment because they view hearing loss as only a situational problem, but any delay can have serious consequences as hearing loss is not correctable.”

Early detection, while not able to prevent hearing loss, can significantly reduce some of its effects. That’s why the Campaign for Better Hearing is working toward a goal of providing all Canadians over the age of 60 with a free baseline hearing test. The organization recently surpassed its goal of 50,000 hearing tests completed across Canada in 2016 and is aiming even higher in 2017.

“We can’t turn back the clock, because hearing loss is permanent, but the earlier we can treat it, the better the quality of life for the individual,” says Jillian Price, the Chief Audiologist at Listen Up! Canada. “That’s why the Campaign for Better Hearing is so important and why proactive testing is essential.”

Protect your hearing by being proactive

A hearing test helps to determine if someone has hearing loss and, if so, the severity of the problem. The results are recorded on a chart called an audiogram, which indicates how loud different sounds must be before they are first heard. However, not all hearing loss can be detected with a hearing test. When an individual develops signs of hearing loss, but the results of their hearing test come back normal, it may be a condition called hidden hearing loss.

“We’re learning with hidden hearing loss that the connections between the ear and the brain can be damaged by exposure to loud noise, and the damage may be permanent, even though the hearing threshold may return,” says Steve J. Aiken, an Associate Professor in the School of Human Communication Disorders at Dalhousie University. “This type of hearing loss isn’t detectable by our current clinical methods. So just because your test results come back normal, it doesn’t necessarily mean there isn’t hearing damage.”

Much of the current research into hearing loss is geared toward developing a clinical test that will be able to accurately measure the damage to these connections. While progress is being made in this area, much work remains to be done. But, even today, those suffering from hidden hearing loss can benefit from visiting an audiologist and conducting a baseline hearing test.
“Having a baseline hearing test and following that up with regular tests allows us to track changes over time,” says Price. “It enables us to see how quickly things are progressing if we do notice a problem, while also presenting early warning signs of issues that may be on the horizon.”

While early detection is key, the best way to combat hearing loss is to prevent it from occurring in the first place. Unlike vision, which can be repaired, once your hearing is gone, it’s gone for good. It’s up to you to maintain good hearing health by turning down the volume whenever possible and turning up at a hearing clinic to get your hearing tested.