“Blindness separates people from things. Deafness separates people from people,” stated Helen Keller, in response to a query of “would you rather be deaf or blind?”
Thankfully, incredible advances in audiology and technology allow the 30 million people affected with hearing loss to remain engaged with others, without the stigma that was formerly attached to hearing aids.
“Everyone seems to have something in their ears nowadays,” observed Joe Gillespie of East Cooper Hearing Centers, “whether it’s a Bluetooth device or ear buds.”
Today’s hearing aids are so small they’re barely noticeable. Some have apps that will pair to your iPhone or Android, allowing you to adjust the volume and filter background noise and even stream your favorite music.
“Loud noise is a primary cause of hearing loss,” Gillespie explained, adding that other causes include aging, infection, diseases and hereditary disorders.
“Over 90 percent of hearing loss occurs in the cochlea, a snail-like structure in the inner ear,” he said. “Each cochlea contains approximately 20,000 microscopic hairs called stereo cilia.”
Every single one of those 20,000 stereo cilia has a receptor for a specific frequency. Once the individual cilia receives its specific frequency, it sends that frequency to the brain through the auditory nerve.
“It’s an extremely complicated organ,” Gillespie observed.
Conversations are typically carried on at 20 to 50 decibels on the hearing level scale. With exposure to noise above 110 decibels, “you can expect some cilia to be destroyed,” and lose the ability to hear at that frequency.”
“Once they disappear, they’re gone. They do not regenerate,” Gillespie added.
Which explains why it may be hard for you to hear a certain person’s voice; they may speak at a frequency for which you’ve lost your cilia, so you don’t pick up those sounds.
Gillespie, a Charleston native, has been practicing audiology for nearly 25 years.
“I was encouraged to enter the field by my friend and family member, Dr. Jeffrey Deal,” he said.
Dr. Deal was a founding member of Charleston ENT, one of the Lowcountry’s preeminent ear, nose and throat practices.
Gillespie, who has offices in Mount Pleasant, Kiawah and Moncks Corner, has a genuine desire to “help people hear better.”
“Individuals concerned about possible hearing loss should consult a board-certified audiologist,” he urged. “A comprehensive battery of tests will help determine the best course of action. Hearing aids are often necessary, and patients need to be careful when selecting a hearing aid provider. Unfortunately, there are still unscrupulous electronic salesmen out there exaggerating hearing aid benefits and offering prices that do not reflect the technology available.”
Gillespie further suggested contacting an audiologist as soon as you begin to detect hearing loss.M/
“Studies indicate people who wait to obtain hearing aids may experience dementia and memory loss faster than proactive individuals who obtain aids as soon as the problem is recognized,” he pointed out.
Finally, Gillespie urged: “Take care of your hearing from the get-go. A 13-year-old with a lawn-cutting business should be wearing ear protection.”