Why Are So Many People So Afraid to Get Their Hearing Checked, Including Myself?

by Carol Morabito for ClearSounds

In November 1999, I was on American Airlines flight 160, which at 31,000 feet in the air experienced a ruptured pressurized air line in the cabin. The result was a terrifying sound similar to that of an explosion, a loss of temperature control, a sudden loss of cabin pressure and a very scary 12 minutes of a quick and steep controlled descent. Despite the fact that six passengers had injuries at landing, which included bloody ears, bloody noses, and a swollen brain stent, I was in my mid-20s and completely in denial about any potential injuries I could possibly have. I brushed off all the EMTs and marched right to the line to rebook my travel. Even after experiencing tremendous pain in my ears for days following the accident, and continued pain for years when my ears were exposed to cold air, I was still in denial, and I never had my ears or my hearing checked…well, that is until today.

So, I have been wondering… why are so many people (including myself) so afraid to get their hearing checked? What is the point of denial? Do I judge or shy away from others, even those under 50, with hearing aids? Absolutely not. Is it because hearing loss, unlike a broken arm or pneumonia, is something you can live with, and in our busy lives and workaholic culture, we just can’t take the time to nit pick our health? Is it that we don’t want to admit that all this time, we were talking loudly? Is it that once we know there is a problem, we are obligated to take care of it, and maybe the thought of spending thousands of dollars on a hearing aid is daunting? Ding, ding, ding—that’s the winner, at least for me!

So, this morning, nearly 14 years after an incident I have been almost certain affected my hearing, I finally had a hearing test. It was time, after working with people with hearing loss for several years, and advocating for healthy hearing, for me to walk the walk. I’ve always known that I am an annoying movie-watching partner. If there is music or other background noises, I cannot hear the actors speaking unless I have the volume cranked up to a level that is beyond comfortable to others. I constantly ask, “What did he/she say?” and have to rewind. I am OFTEN told I am talking too loudly, which I blame on my NY Italian roots, and when using a cell phone, I need two ear buds in my ears. (Admittedly, I have a personal blue tooth aversion, but regardless, I am never comfortable hearing with the phone just held to my ear.)

My father spent most of his life in denial of his 30% hearing loss, which was ironically a result of being in an unpressurized plane while serving in the Army in 1968. He got hearing aids only five years before he passed away at 55 years old. My mom is also in denial of her hearing loss, 20 years after she demanded my father finally get the hearing aids he needed. Now, despite my repeated requests, she is the one refusing to get her own hearing test.

Well, I can’t be a hypocrite—the time had come for me to get my ears examined and hearing tested, albeit 14 years later. The test was surprisingly easy and quick, and I was pleasantly surprised (maybe shocked) to learn that I have quite good hearing. Relieved, but then confused, with the results, I was immediately concerned about that 14-year-pain in my ear. After my audiology evaluation, I was seen by an ENT doc, who told me that I have swelling in my Eustachian tube in my right ear—ah ha, the one with the pain. He said the type of inflammation I have can, in fact, last 14 yeas, if untreated, and can also interfere with my ability to process speech in the presence of background noise. Solution—Nasonex. And to think…all these years…all I needed was nasal spray! If I only could have gotten over my fear and denial in 1999, I could have saved myself years of ear pain, and some admitted anxiety.

So, if you’re afraid to get your hearing tested, don’t be. If you feel something is wrong, it might just be. And if you’re lucky, you might just get handed a box of Nasonex. But even if you do have a hearing loss, and you’re forced to face that, it’s healthier and more productive for you to find out now in order to prevent further damage.

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