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July 17, 2012 > Can You Hear Me Now?

Can You Hear Me Now?

Washington Hospital Seminar Focuses on Hearing Loss

Have you seen those commercials where the guy keeps asking, "Can you hear me now?" While the ads are not about hearing loss, they do ask an important question. Losing your hearing can be life-altering. It makes it difficult to participate in conversations and other activities where you need to hear to understand what's happening, like going to the movies or making a transaction.

"Hearing loss impacts daily life," said Beth Ehrlich, a local audiologist with the Hearing Center of Castro Valley and Fremont. "It doesn't just affect the person with the hearing loss either. It affects family, friends, and all the people around you. Hearing loss has been linked to depression, dementia, Alzheimer's, and diabetes. It can also have an economic impact because hearing loss can affect your ability to generate income."

Ehrlich will present "Hearing Loss: When to Seek Help" with Ken Smith, also an audiologist at the Hearing Center of Castro Valley and Fremont. The free seminar will be held on Tuesday, July 24, from 1 to 2:30 p.m., at the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium, located at 2500 Mowry Avenue (Washington West) in Fremont. You can register online at or call (800) 963-7070 for more information.

Smith will start by explaining how the ears work. Sound waves enter the outer ear and move through the auditory canal with the help of tiny hairs that line the canal. The middle ear transmits vibrations into the inner ear, where they are converted into nerve signals the brain interprets as sound. Hearing loss occurs when this process is disrupted.

"Some hearing loss is treatable," he said. "For example, hearing loss caused by an obstruction like wax buildup in the ear. But the vast majority of hearing loss is not treatable or reversible except with hearing aids and other assisted-listening devices."

There are a number of factors that contribute to hearing loss in adults. Heredity and exposure to loud noises play a major role, according to Smith. Certain illnesses, injuries, and medications can also cause hearing loss. While losing your hearing isn't something you should just accept as a natural part of aging, the aging process does contribute to hearing loss, he added. About half of all people over age 75 have some amount of age-related hearing loss, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Hearing Loss at Any Age

"The myth is that hearing loss only happens to older adults, but the reality is it can happen at any age," Ehrlich said. "Part of our message is that adults should have their hearing checked starting at age 40."

Smith added: "We used to think hearing peaked at age 30 or 40, but with today's noise levels, we are seeing teenagers who are already experiencing hearing loss."

Hearing loss often starts with buzzing or ringing in the ears, which is an indication that your ears have experienced some noise damage, according to Smith. Ringing in the ears is known as tinnitus. Some cases can be so severe that it even makes it difficult to sleep.

"Most people who experience the signs of hearing loss wait too long to get help," Ehrlich said. "The average time between when somebody thinks they have a problem and when they do something about it averages about eight years. If you have difficulty hearing in restaurants or understanding someone over the telephone, you are probably experiencing some hearing loss."

The pair will also talk about treatment strategies that can help you cope with hearing loss and get a better quality of life. Technology has dramatically improved assisted-listening devices like hearing aids.

"Sometimes people don't want a hearing aid because they are thinking about the clunky devices of the past that whistled and made noise," Smith said. "But technology has made them so much better."

Ehrlich added, "They are a lot less conspicuous than a Blue Tooth."

They will talk about some of the assisted-listening devices that are available and will also offer tips that can help people with hearing loss adapt.

"You have to be realistic when you start wearing a hearing aid," she explained. "You aren't going to hear like you did when you were 16, but it will significantly improve your hearing so that you can get on with life. There are also ways to adapt, like avoiding noisy restaurants or positioning yourself so you can hear the conversation."

To find out about other classes and seminars offered at Washington Hospital, visit

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