HOUGHTON - Hearing and speech are two quality of life issues many people take for granted, but that's something the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association is hoping to address during Better Hearing and Speech Month throughout May.
According to the ASHA, an estimated 28 million Americans have a hearing loss that can be treated, and 14 million Americans are affected by speech and language disorders.
According to Portage Health audiologist Nancy Reed, there are three key components to properly addressing those issues: proper diagnosis, rehabilitation and prevention.
Stephen Anderson/Daily Mining Gazette
Portage Health audiologist Nancy Reed looks into a patient’s ear last week in the Hancock hospital’s audiology department. May is Better Hearing and Speech Month, and the three key components to properly addressing those issues are?proper diagnosis, rehabilitation and prevention.
"Hearing is a basic, critical part of being a human and I think it's good to know what's out there if you're having problems with it," Reed said.
For people who may frequently ask others to repeat themselves, turn their ear toward a sound to hear it better or keep the volume on the TV or radio at a level that others say is too loud, a variety of diagnostic tests can be performed on people of all ages.
While hearing loss is most frequently thought of as affecting the older population, problems are prevalent and can be effectively treated across all ages. In fact, Portage Health has the Upper Peninsula's only certified Infant Diagnostic Audiology Center.
"We evaluate hearing from 0 to 100," Reed said. "We fit hearing aids - the youngest we've fit is 3 months old and the oldest is over 100."
Some hearing loss is medically treatable through surgery, but for those that are not, hearing aids have changed significantly even just in the last decade to keep up with modern technology.
"About 10 to 12 years ago, hearing aids transitioned to digital and since then the changes have come fast and furious. They're exciting, and it's exciting to fit hearing aids now," Reed said. "It's a whole new world out there for hearing-impaired folks."
While there are a variety of treatment options for those suffering from hearing loss, a major focus of Better Hearing and Speech Month is in preventing hearing loss.
"Prevention is really important, and I don't think we get the word out enough how important it is," Reed said. "Every young generation is going to have to learn the hard way that hearing loss is so prevalent and it's getting more prevalent with all the ear buds and people using sound directly into their ears hour after hour a day."
Reed strongly recommends the use of earplugs and other forms of hearing protection when in loud environments. She also strongly advised against the use of Q-tips and ear candles for ear cleaning, and she said ears are created to be self-cleaning and generally do not need to be cleaned. Fragile ear drums and thin skin in the ear make ear cleaning dangerous.
For more about diagnosing, rehabilitating and preventing hearing loss, and to take advantage of a hearing aid battery sale that runs through May 31, visit portagehealth.org/audiology. Another local place to get tested for hearing loss and explore treatment options is Superior Hearing - for more information, visit superiorhearing.com.
While speech issues are not quite as prevalent as hearing problems, they still affect many Americans, and there are still many treatment options by speech-language pathologists.
Speech and language disorders can take many forms and limit academic achievement and social or career advancement. Some are born with such issues while others are caused by accidents or illnesses.
"Most issues can be improved with proper rehabilitation," Portage SLP Jane Anderson said in a BHSM press release.
With three SLPs on staff, Portage specializes in treating youth with communication issues. One of the most frequently asked questions they get asked is, "When should a child start talking?"
"Typically first words develop at 12 months of age," said Portage SLP Elizabeth Martin. "Parents should be concerned if their child is not doing this prior to a year of age, and if a child does not have first words by 1 year and 6 months of age it is recommended that they talk with their pediatrician to determine if a speech language evaluation is appropriate at that time."
Other common issues that speech-language pathologists work with include stuttering, articulation disorders and language disorders. For more information on Portage's speech therapy, visit portagehealth.org/speechtherapy.
For more information on Better Hearing and Speech Month, visit asha.org/bhsm.