More than 40 million Americans suffer from some sort of hearing loss. Surprisingly, this can be a problem for people of all ages. Hearing loss is one of the most common birth defects, and it is occurring in young adults at an increasing rate due to many factors. In adults, it is commonly ignored until it reaches detrimental proportions.
About 3% of infants are born with hearing loss. In 2000, hearing health care providers from across the Fox Valley in Wisconsin established a coalition to address this issue. They created a newborn hearing-screening program for all babies born at Mercy Medical Center in Oshkosh and St. Elizabeth Hospital in Appleton.
Dr. Amy Rietz, educational audiologist for CESA 7, was one of the team members. “It was a great effort by the ENT physicians and the audiologists at several different offices in our area,” says Dr. Rietz. “By working together with the staff in the newborn nurseries to create a seamless screening program, all the babies were tested before they even left the hospital. Any babies who didn’t pass would see one of the doctors of audiology for a more thorough evaluation.”
Ear infections and other easily treated ear conditions are frequently present in school-age children. Approximately one-third of the children in a grade-school classroom at any time have some degree of temporary hearing loss. Also, exposure to high volume on headphones is beginning to affect people at a young age. This impacts their learning, their behavior, and their future success. Many, but not all, of the Oshkosh, Wisconsin, public schools’ elementary classrooms now have sound systems in the rooms to help the teacher’s voice reach all the students comfortably and clearly.
When you start to lose your vision, you are the first person to notice. When you start to lose your hearing, everyone else notices. “No one hesitates to have their eyes checked. We all go and have our teeth checked. As we age, we have mammograms and other exams to make sure our bodies stay healthy,” says Dr. Candy McGinnis, audiologist at Fox Valley Hearing Center in Oshkosh. “Yet when people begin to lose the edge of their hearing, they don’t go and find out what is happening. Noise exposure creates problems with hearing gradually over time. Along with genetics, health factors, and medications, there are many factors that may temporarily or permanently affect hearing. A baseline test is recommended for anyone age 50 or over.” In the end, everyone should be careful with their ears. Protect yourself from overly loud sounds with earmuffs or custom-fit earplugs. You only have one set of ears — keep them healthy!