Talk to Your Patients About Hearing Loss

By Karin Krisher

In April, 2010, I came down with a terrible cold. My lungs hurt. My ears hurt. After much nudging from my roommates, I finally saw a doctor, who let me know that a respiratory infection had migrated to my eardrums, where it was now causing significant blistering.

Oh. Lovely.

He gave me antibiotics and sent me on my not-so-merry way. Two and a half years later, and my right ear is essentially useless. I have no idea if that’s the sole cause, no inclination to go see a doc, and a terrible, sinking feeling that my social life will never improve.

I’m not alone.

According to the CDC, some 37 million people are victims of hearing loss. And many of those people (75% to 80% of adults, according to a study by an audiologist at the Henry Ford Hospital), don’t get hearing aids. The same study showed that the group that consistently did purchase hearing aids was those that had full medical insurance for the devices.

Why is it time to talk to your patients about hearing loss? Because most people won’t talk to you about it. And most docs aren’t known for being strict about the hearing test; because hearing aids are perceived as “elective,” the test might also fall subject to the same description.

You can make a difference. If my doctor brought up hearing, I wouldn’t hesitate to tell them how I was feeling. But a lot of patients can’t do that, especially not without prompting.

A lot of patients will need the diagnostic test to confront their hearing loss with you. By its nature, it is a loss that significantly marginalizes individuals—just one of many reasons it is a loss that is easy to want to deny. In my experience, I’ve been hard pressed to admit just how profound the change is. I believe others must feel the same.

Talk to your patients about hearing loss today. Most people begin experiencing loss in their 20’s, so anytime is a good time. Talking about it early or as a preventative measure is a great way to get the ball rolling on finding an insurance provider that can help. It’s also a great way to let your patients know that you don’t see their loss as elective, so you don’t see their gain as such, either.

Have you experienced hearing loss or worked with a patient who has? What were some lessons you learned? Tell us your story on our Facebook page!