One of the most common questions patients ask me during a hearing aid consultation is, “Will wearing hearing aids interfere with my glasses?” I understand. Wearing one extra thing every day is a scary thought. After the rise of COVID-19 in 2020, we were all graced with yet another accessory--the facemask. Fortunately, hearing aids do NOT interfere with wearing your glasses. In fact, many patients wear both comfortably, mask included!
Hearing Loss and Vision Loss
Hearing loss and vision loss are among some of the most common health conditions that our patients face. Nearly 38 million Americans experience some form of hearing loss, and one in three people in the United States between the ages of 65 and 74 has hearing loss. Noise exposure, aging, and genetics are just a few of the various factors that can lead to hearing loss.
Similar to hearing loss, vision loss also increases with age. Nearly 12 million Americans older than 40 experience a form of vision impairment, according to the CDC. Some of the most common causes of vision loss include macular degeneration and vision complications from diabetes, glaucoma, and age-related cataracts. Patients who experience vision loss face difficulties such as limited side vision, sensitivity to light, and reduced depth and color perception. These issues severely reduce one’s ability to perform everyday tasks.
The effects of hearing loss and vision loss
Living with hearing loss can be exhausting! Adding vision loss is worse. Adding a mask that covers the mouth is inconceivable. During the pandemic, I’ve noticed now more than ever how much patients must strain their ears to hear what is spoken. With masks covering our mouths, many of the lip-reading cues we all rely on are out the window. I can tell when someone is leaning in, hyper-focused, trying to comprehend every word. Living with hearing and vision loss truly fatigues the brain. When the brain does not have adequate access to important speech sounds, it must work even harder to process what little it’s receiving. Hearing loss can significantly and negatively affect a person's quality of life by causing embarrassment and social withdrawal or by making understanding speech and listening in noisy environments more difficult.
If you couldn’t read street signs or if you noticed the words on a page were fuzzy, would you seek help? In my experience, many patients are well aware of their vision loss and have taken the appropriate steps to treat it. However, for whatever reason, hearing loss is a different story. Many people are hesitant to address their hearing problems because they feel embarrassed or even old.
Generally, hearing loss tends to be a slow, gradual process. Many patients share initial comments such as, “Well, they mumble,” or “That restaurant was extremely noisy,” or “That person is so soft spoken,” when, in reality, those may be the early signs (years prior) that slight changes are happening to the auditory system! Most patients do not show up for a baseline hearing test until their hearing has regressed to a point at which they are extremely bothered by it or their family and friends are noticing.
Who can help?
Primary Care Physician: If you are experiencing hearing loss or vision loss, the first step is to consult your family doctor or primary care physician. They can evaluate your concerns and refer you to specialists to have your hearing and/or vision evaluated.
Optometrist: A doctor of optometry can evaluate your vision and provide a rehabilitation program that addresses your needs. A wide variety of rehabilitation options are available to help people with low vision live and work more effectively, efficiently, and safely.
Audiologist: A doctor of audiology can evaluate your hearing and balance related problems. An audiologist can perform a comprehensive hearing test, explain the results, and provide recommendations for hearing aids if they will benefit you.
Tips for Living with Hearing Loss and Vision Loss
Many of our patients wear glasses AND hearing aids! Many styles of hearing aids are available, and the following tricks can ensure an appropriate and comfortable fit:
- Color indicators → Sometimes, patients must get creative by marking their hearing aids with small stickers or nail polish to identify which device belongs in what ear. For one patient with severe visual impairment, I ordered hearing aids with two different colors for each ear. The patient found it easy to remember that, “Light is right, and dark is left.”
- Tactile tricks→ Some patients prefer to have additional tactile buttons to help them remove their hearing aids from the charger or to identify the position of the device in the ear.
- Light indicators→ Many hearing aids are rechargeable and use blinking lights to indicate when the device is charging and when it’s ready to use.
- Large-printed materials in black & white→ Print a summary of what happened at the appointment in a large-print font that is easy to read and reference as needed.
- Caption Call phones→ Closed caption devices, such as Caption Call phones, display a patient’s phone conversation in large text. The large text visually compliments what is being said, helping severely hearing impaired patients see and understand the audio they are receiving. Caption Call phones are free with documented proof from a licensed professional of one’s hearing loss.
The month of March is “Save Your Vision Month.” In the words of Helen Keller, “Blindness cuts us off from things, but deafness cuts us off from people.” The combination of the two impairments can be isolating and difficult. At Kalady Audiology in Beaufort, South Carolina, we aim to provide you with outstanding hearing health care that is personalized, professional, and improves your quality of life!