Hearing loss can sometimes be a difficult subject to discuss with women because of the perceived stigmas associated with hearing aids and hearing loss. Some people put off getting their hearing screened because they are concerned that someone will see that they are wearing hearing aids, while others put the hearing health of someone else before their own. With one-third of American women in their 50s and almost two-thirds of American women in their 60s reporting some degree of hearing loss1, it’s time to break those negative perceptions and get more women to pay attention to their own hearing health.
A Gender Reversal
Hearing loss is not the same for women and men. This difference in hearing loss might allow it to go unnoticed longer if, for example, a woman is using her husband’s hearing loss to measure her own. A study by doctors at the University of Washington Medical Center found that hearing loss in women is the reverse of what men experience because women hear better at high frequencies (above 2000 Hz) and men hear better at low frequencies (below 1000-2000 Hz).
“Some female patients wait too long to get their hearing screened, and when their word recognition starts to slip it is hard to get back,” Stacy Sammons, licensed hearing instrument specialist, and half of our mother-daughter team in Concept’s Grinnell, Oskaloosa, and Pella clinics explains. The difficulty the brain has with processing those sounds can easily be mistaken for a cognitive issue, like dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, due to the listener misunderstanding questions or responding inappropriately to questions. “We always tell our patients that your brain is a ‘use it or lose it’ organ. If you can’t hear certain sounds or frequencies, your brain starts losing its ability to process those sounds correctly,” Stacy says. “Once you have the quality and clarity of sound hearing aids provide, your brain can start to regain the sounds heard incorrectly for so many years.”
Hearing Loss Risks for Women
The American Heart Association reports that heart disease is the number one killer of women2 — and it’s also a risk factor for hearing loss. A study published in The Laryngoscope uncovered a significant association between heart disease and low-frequency hearing loss. The discovery was so remarkable that the doctors who authored the study recommended that patients with low-frequency hearing loss be “regarded as at risk for cardiovascular events”.
Ototoxicity is another hearing loss risk factor associated especially with women. In the third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, women were found to be more likely to use prescription and non-prescription pain relievers than men.3 Regular use (two or more times per week) of acetaminophen or ibuprofen puts women at greater risk for hearing loss from these ototoxic medications.4
Studies of fall-related visits to the hospital show that women are more prone to falling than men.5 “Your hearing is connected to your balance, and hearing loss can make someone more prone to falls,” Stacy adds. For women with osteoporosis, falling can increase their chances of suffering a fractured bone when they fall.6
“For women, not wanting to ask others to repeat themselves is usually the reason they finally make an appointment to get their hearing screened,” Stacy recounts. It’s not surprising that women would put off caring for their hearing health given the perceived stigmas associated with hearing loss and hearing aid use. A study published in the American Journal of Audiology showed that overwhelmingly, the women in the study perceived a person with hearing loss and using hearing aids as handicapped and old. We encourage everyone to help break these negative perceptions by making hearing tests a part of your annual health and wellbeing routine. This is particularly important as more women enter the workforce in areas where the risk for noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is greater, such as manufacturing and construction.7
At Concept, our hearing health experts frequently see misunderstandings holding men and women back from caring for their hearing health. One way Concept strives to help break the barrier to entry is by offering products designed to discreetly treat hearing loss. “Some of our female patients prefer smaller and less visible hearing aids due to the stigmas associated with wearing hearing aids. However, Concept hearing aids are hard to see, if they are seen at all,” Stacy remarks. “One benefit of receiver-in-canal (RIC) hearing aids is that the casing is behind the ear, and only has a small, clear tube showing that is very hard to see unless you are extremely close to the wearer.” Being able to treat hearing loss without the hearing aids being noticed by others can give women the confidence to wear hearing aids without fear of being perceived negatively. Additionally, the assuredness the wearer will enjoy by hearing more clearly and walking without worrying about falling will continue to increase the person’s confidence. “We often hear our patients say that the only thing they regret about hearing aids is not getting them sooner,” Stacy says.
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4189799/, http://injuryprevention.bmj.com/content/8/4/280.short