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Hearing loss is inevitable and other common hearing loss myths, debunked

So much of the information available to those struggling with hearing loss is confusing — we demystify the five most common hearing loss myths to help you make decisions about your health.

Medically reviewed by

Danielle Morgan

Updated:

May 13, 2024

A woman has a hearing aid placed in her ear. A woman has a hearing aid placed in her ear.

The 3 key takeaways

  • Hearing loss is preventable — There are plenty of ways to prevent and treat it if and when symptoms occur.
  • Losing your hearing impacts your overall health — Hearing loss affects more than your day-to-day life — it can lead to other health issues such as depression and isolation.
  • Hearing aids aren’t a cure, but they can help your quality of life — Scheduling an appointment with an audiologist is the first step toward finding the right hearing aid for you.

From childhood, doctors, parents, and teachers warn us about the damage that excessive noise and loud sounds can have on our hearing. This often makes it seem as if hearing loss is inevitable, a natural consequence of getting older.

But that is one of the common hearing loss myths, and it’s far from the only one.

What’s worse is that many of the myths surrounding hearing loss prevent people from seeking treatment. In fact, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), while nearly 36 million Americans experience hearing loss, only 20% seek help.

Today, let’s debunk some of the most common myths about hearing loss and explore the treatment options available to help you regain your hearing health.

5 most common hearing loss myths

Like with any medical condition, hearing loss comes with negative stigmas. It can make you feel isolated from your friends and family and prevent you from enjoying activities like going out to eat, enjoying a movie at the theater, or even basic activities like playing with your children or grandchildren.

Once you overcome the stigma — and the nerve-wracking process of diagnosing your specific type of hearing loss — you are free to take steps toward improved hearing health.

That starts by understanding what’s true — and not true — about hearing loss.

1. Hearing loss is an inevitable part of getting older

As we age, our bodies change, including our hearing system. Age-related hearing loss, also called presbycusis, is common enough to have its own name, yes.

However, that doesn’t mean that age-related hearing loss is “normal” or that you should avoid seeing the audiologist if you’re experiencing hearing loss. Refusing to see an audiologist because of changes in your hearing can negatively impact your health in a variety of ways.

If you are experiencing hearing loss after the age of 65, don’t accept it as an inevitable part of the aging process.

Make an appointment with an audiologist in your area and explore your options, whether that’s prescription hearing aids, over-the-counter hearing aids, or other hearing assistants.

2. Losing my hearing is not serious enough to seek medical attention

Losing your hearing has a major impact on your lifestyle, overall health, and  interactions with others. It can increase the risk of depression, social isolation, cognitive decline, and even dementia. How, exactly?

Think of your brain like a computer. When you have too many tabs open on your computer or you’re running too many programs at once, the computer slows down.

Researchers theorize that increasing cognitive load, or the amount of working memory the human brain is using, decreases the brain’s ability to problem-solve or react to outside stimuli. It can especially affect short-term memory.

Dealing with your hearing loss can help reduce your cognitive load, decreasing your chances of other side effects, such as depression and agitation.

3. My hearing loss is not bad enough for a hearing aid

It’s difficult to admit you might be at a stage where you need a hearing aid. You won’t know what you need until a medical professional evaluates you.

An audiologist can help determine the extent of your hearing loss, what kind of hearing loss you’re experiencing, and the best way to treat your hearing loss moving forward.

Perhaps you don’t need a hearing aid but simply need to make small adjustments to make hearing easier. You may need a simple hearing aid to help amplify your residual hearing, or you’re  struggling with severe hearing loss and need a more sophisticated aid.

An audiologist can help determine the best course of action for the hearing loss you’re experiencing —  once you notice hearing loss, get evaluated to properly treat your symptoms.

4. A hearing aid will cure my hearing loss

Many people resist hearing aids when they discover they will not cure hearing loss. However, don’t think of hearing aids like eyeglasses.

Eyeglasses correct your vision. Hearing aids amplify sound, drawing on your residual hearing and magnifying the sound around you so you can hear better.

A hearing aid uses a three-part system: a microphone, an amplifier, and a speaker. The microphone receives the sound and turns it into a digital signal. The amplifier increases the strength of that digital signal, and the speaker produces the amplified sound into the ear.

You will need to adjust your way of life to make the most of your hearing aid.

Your audiologist can discuss various strategies, such as turning your ear toward the sound you’re trying to hear and sitting in quieter corners of public places, like restaurants or cafes.

5. A hearing aid will damage my hearing

While it makes sense to fear additional damage, hearing aids will not worsen your hearing.

In fact, according to Dr. Lawrence Lustig, chair of otolaryngology and head and neck surgery at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, “Hearing aids can’t amplify sound to a level that might cause damage, even in patients with significant hearing loss.”

Speak with your audiologist about your concerns. They can reassure you about the best treatment options for your specific type of hearing loss.

How to treat your hearing loss

Once you’ve determined you want to take control of your hearing loss, there are several steps you can take to make your first appointment with your audiologist easier. Here are some suggestions on the next steps for treating your hearing loss.

  1. Take an online hearing test. If you’re still doubting whether your hearing loss is serious enough to see an audiologist, go ahead and take an online hearing test. It can test your ability to detect certain words and sounds so you can determine whether to see a hearing loss professional for a more robust hearing evaluation.
  2. Schedule an appointment with an audiologist. The professional opinion is the best opinion. Use our Audiologist Explorer to find a hearing loss professional in your area.
  3. Do your research. We know there is a lot of information out there. It can all get overwhelming and confusing. We’ve worked to create simple, easy-to-understand content to help inform you about hearing health so you can be prepared for your visit with your audiologist. For additional information on hearing loss, we recommend:
  •  American-Speech-Language-Hearing Association ASHA offers extensive resources on hearing loss and hearing health.
  • The Johns Hopkins Cochlear Center for Hearing and Public Health — Part of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, this online resource provides additional insight into hearing loss and how it impacts daily life.
  • The House Institute Foundation — A private nonprofit invested in hearing research, The House Institute Foundation has great resources for those struggling with hearing loss or looking to learn more about the latest in hearing loss research.

Hearing loss can be frustrating, but it doesn’t have to be debilitating. Do your research before deciding against a hearing aid.

With proper care and treatment, you or your loved one can help minimize the negative impacts of hearing loss and move toward a brighter future.

Frequently asked questions

What is the most common cause of hearing loss?

Loud noise is the most common cause of hearing loss. Persistent noise from pieces of machinery like lawn mowers and snowblowers, and extended exposure to loud music can lead to tinnitus (a ringing in the ears) or even permanent hearing loss.

What are some common signs of hearing loss?

The most common sign is difficulty hearing people or misunderstanding what they say.

If sounds that used to be clear sound muffled, or if you have to turn the television up to hear and other people in the room find it too loud, you may want to get a hearing test

Will hearing aids damage my ears?

Not at all. Hearing aids cannot amplify sound to a level that will cause damage. They are  programmed to your unique hearing loss, generating a prescription of sound specific to your needs.

They work with your residual hearing so you can better hear the world around you. However, while most hearing aids filter out some background noise, they do not remove it entirely.

If you find background noise uncomfortable with your hearing aids, follow up with your audiologist for an adjustment.

Can I purchase a hearing aid without an audiologist?

Technically, yes. Over-the-counter hearing aids are now available on the market. However, we strongly recommend seeing an audiologist before purchasing an OTC hearing aid.

An audiologist can help determine important factors like the type of hearing loss you’re experiencing, the kind of hearing aid that will serve you best, and whether your hearing loss is profound enough to require a prescription hearing aid.

An audiologist can help diagnose conditions requiring treatment from other medical professionals, such as an ear, nose, and throat physician.