Questions You’ve Always Wanted to Ask a Person with Hearing Loss

People who don’t have hearing loss might find it hard to imagine what living with hearing loss is like – and might be shy about asking. But understanding hearing loss is a way to break down stigma and dispel misconceptions. For World Hearing Day, we’ve asked our guest bloggers Shari Eberts, Gael Hannan, and Nick Tedd to tell you everything you’ve always wanted to know about hearing loss (but were afraid to ask):

Does your sight improve when your hearing diminishes?

Gael: My sense of sight missed this memo! As my hearing worsened through the years, my vision most certainly did not improve. Along with my hearing technology, I also use contact lenses and glasses. 

What does happen, is that we depend on our other senses to take up the slack or fill in the gaps. People with hearing loss use visual clues such as speechreading, text interpretation, and environmental elements. When watching someone as they speak, I use their facial expressions, lip movements, and body language to augment what I’m hearing. Captioning and written notes and documents play the same role. If I see the cat running around, well, that explains that noise! Flashing lights tell me everything from a ringing phone to a fire alarm.

Why can’t you hear me in this restaurant when you could hear me in the last one?

Shari: When dining out with someone with hearing loss, a quiet restaurant with plenty of soft surfaces is always your best bet. The reason is two-fold: background noise and design. 

Hearing aids amplify all sounds, so when a restaurant is noisy, the clattering of the dishes, the background music, and the conversation at the next table all sound louder. This makes it harder to pinpoint the voices we want to hear from among all the other noises around us.

The design of the restaurant is also a factor. Hard surfaces like metal, hard woods and tile reflect the sound of music and voices, creating a reverberant din that masks speech. For easier conversation, seek out restaurants with soft surfaces like cushioned seats, acoustic tile, and fabric wrapped panels or carpeting, which absorb noise.

Is your hearing loss worse some days than others?

Shari: Hearing loss can seem to vary from day to day and even from morning to evening on the same day. This is because we hear with our brains, not with our ears, making auditory fatigue a critical factor in how well we hear. When you are feeling rested, well fed, and alert, you are likely to have more brain energy for listening. If you have a cold or are physically tired, your hearing may suffer. 

The same holds true from morning to evening. As the day progresses, someone with hearing loss has to work much harder to make sense of the sounds around them, as their body and mind tire from the listening efforts throughout the day. The truth is we are likely hearing equally well (or poorly!) at all times of the day, but we understand better in the morning when our brains are fresher.

Can people with hearing loss enjoy music?

Nick: It depends on the level of hearing loss. With my hearing loss, my hearing aids have been set up digitally by my audiologist with a setting just to listen to music. This can be an automatic setting or I can manually override it if I’m at a gig for example and my hearing aids don’t always recognize the music above a noisy room.  

Mostly I use Bluetooth to stream music directly from my iPhone. Since nearly every form of technology comes with Bluetooth capability, I take advantage of this with Bluetooth hearing aids. The telecoil inside a hearing aid is the component that receives sounds. It then translates the sound into a loop that amplifies for the listener. If hearing aids are within range of a Bluetooth device, they can pick up music and play straight to my ear. This means that I can connect to a smart television and play a show through my hearing aids without disturbing anyone else. Or I can play music from a phone, tablet, or other music player straight into my ears. This protects my hearing from further damage and makes use of a device that’s already in my ear. 

Is it true that living with hearing loss makes you tired?

Nick: Yes! I find that concentrating on what people are saying takes a lot of energy as I need to see their mouth and lips to be able to understand what they are saying. This varies depending on the environmental noise where I am listening. I find my attention span lessens when I am tired. Taking “hearing breaks” at social situations is normal and acceptable to me now and keeps me able to return to social situations and reconnect. I don’t beat myself up for taking rest breaks now as it’s just part of who I am and my hearing loss. 

Can people with hearing loss drive?

Gael: Yes – but only if they have a driver’s license! Once the driver with hearing loss has passed the road and written tests, which typically do not contain any hearing-ability questions, she is good to go. Studies show that deaf people have high safety records because they are super-vigilant with their sense of sight. Drivers who use hearing aids and cochlear implants, like all drivers, need to keep a constant eye to vehicles mirrors, because we don’t always hear warnings such as approaching ambulances or other cars honking. It is especially important that drivers with hearing loss not be distracted by visuals such as cell phones. The rearview mirror can be modified with additional mirrors to allow drivers with hearing loss to interact safely with people in the back seat, such as small children. A baby in a car seat placed in the rear passenger position allows easy connection so that parents can clearly see their child.   

Do you have to shout to speak with someone with hearing loss?

Gael: We wish you wouldn’t! Shouting is just as painful to our ears as it is to yours. It also distorts your lip movements, making it harder to speechread and understand what you’re saying. If you have been asked to speak up, try raising your voice just a bit to find a comfortable level for us both. If you face us and speak clearly in a well-lit and low-noise environment, there should be no reason to yell.