Addressing the Stigma Associated With Hearing Loss and Tinnitus
Hearing loss is completely a natural and medication condition that we face, especially as we age. Tinnitus is also a common condition that can be caused by many health conditions.
Unfortunately, individuals with hearing loss and/or tinnitus are constantly facing a social stigma, which is leading to isolation, many communication barriers, and reduced quality of life.
Explore in this blog the social stigma associated with these two conditions, its impact on the individuals, and all the effective strategies that can help overcome this stigma.
Dealing with hearing loss and tinnitus, ringing in the ears, can be very scary and annoying. There is a specific negative association surrounding hearing loss and tinnitus and that is why people who suffer from these conditions try to avoid seeking treatment. They think that hearing aid makes them look older, weaker, and less capable. They care more about what others think and sadly, they struggle with reduced hearing when treatment could be their solution.
How does this stigma start?
Stigmas are usually driven by social expectations. They are how society reacts to and treats those stigmatized. They often refer to the negative attitudes and beliefs associated with a particular condition.
Historically speaking, hearing health issues were poorly taken seriously. People usually have regular checkups for their teeth and eyes and forget about their ears. There is at some point some outdated thinking about hearing health.
Negative stereotypes and prejudices have been linked to hearing loss and tinnitus for years. The general population perceived hearing aid users as “old”, “poor communication partners”, “cognitively diminished”, and “uninteresting.”
These stereotypes are unfortunately perpetrated by the public, advertisers, and even patients with hearing loss themselves.
Hearing aid advertisements
The advertisements of hearing aid companies are partially to be blamed. Advertisers commonly highlight in their ads the aesthetic characteristics of their devices- the small size and discreet positioning of the hearing aid. Normally speaking, they are responding to the common preferences of their buyers. Apparently though, what they are implying here is that hearing aids, and thus hearing loss, are shameful and therefore should be hidden.
To stop this stigmatization, advertisers should stress the value of improved hearing and communication. To do so, they can depict people of all age groups. This will show the benefits of hearing aids and how hearing loss affects people of all ages and not only elderly ones.
People always associate hearing loss or tinnitus with old age. This is identified as presbycusis or age-related hearing loss. They assume that anyone who has difficulty hearing must be old. They also think that whoever suffers from hearing loss and tinnitus has difficulty in communication skills and intellectual abilities. Understandably, this made the issue of hearing loss or tinnitus hard to deal with.
The opinions of the close people around us matter a lot to us. Whether it is a spouse, child, friend, family member, or coworker, we get affected by their opinions. A lot of people don’t understand the challenges faced in the daily routine by those experiencing hearing loss or the benefits that they might get from effective treatment.
For instance, if your partner shows a negative attitude toward hearing aids, you might get affected and choose not to visit your audiologist or hearing care specialist. Conversely, a positive and supportive reaction from your partner might help a lot because it will allow you to move forward, wear your hearing aid without any judgment, and explore all the treatment options available.
Patients with hearing loss and/or tinnitus
We, humans, have a tendency to belong to a group and always be a part of the bigger group. Having a specific difficulty makes us feel different and not all accept this fact.
Constantly showing the difficulties of the condition, denying it, ignoring it, and refusing to use the available hearing aid durable medical equipment all contribute to increasing this social stigma.
What are the factors involved in the stigma of hearing loss and tinnitus?
There are many factors involved in the stigma around tinnitus and hearing loss. Most revolve around three concepts:
People who suffer from hearing loss or tinnitus see themselves in a different way from the rest of the world. They compare their former self with their current self. So, in order to avoid this stigma, they avoid visiting the audiologist or pretending that the issue is not there.
Many people associate hearing loss or tinnitus with aging. They start finding it difficult to relate to their younger friends and family members. Their condition constantly reminds them that they are getting older and this is an uncomfortable fact of life that everyone faces and doesn’t like to reach.
People who have hearing loss or tinnitus need to wear hearing aids. This fact bothers them because they consider the hearing aid will make them look unattractive or bulky. Sometimes, they don’t like to wear them because they feel they will draw their attention to their hearing condition. They consider it as a sign of handicap or weakness. However, once they start wearing hearing aids, they not only realize how much they have been missing, but they also start to notice how many other people wear them as well.
What is the impact of this social stigma?
Feeling ashamed of hearing loss or tinnitus might lead to disruptions in the treatment process.
The effect of this stigma is sometimes drastic, and its long-term consequences might hinder the treatment plan and worsen the condition.
When hearing loss or tinnitus is left untreated, it will persist and lead to cognitive decline, anxiety, depression, behavioral changes, social isolation, and some serious health issues. Brain issues will start to arise, leading sometimes to dementia.
Some common impacts include:
Loneliness and isolation
Low self-esteem and confidence
How can we fight this stigma?
On a societal level:
Education and Awareness
The key point to fight the stigma is education and awareness. The more we learn and hear about hearing loss and/or tinnitus, the more obvious it becomes that treatment should be socially acceptable. Understanding the importance of hearing aids and their effect on the quality of life helps a lot in maintaining social connections and even careers in some cases.
Increased research and development and new technologies are factors that are helping to screen and test for hearing problems more accurately.
This advancement helps in detecting the problem at a young age and treating it before it worsens. Because of technological advancements, we are now able to identify newborns with hearing impairments within hours of being born. In the past, we rarely saw a toddler walking around with hearing aids in their ears. Now we do!
This eliminates the age-related stigma about hearing aids. As more people understand these conditions, the stigma associated will decrease.
Positively representing individuals with hearing loss in the media can promote inclusivity. Including diverse characters with hearing loss in movies, books, and TV shows increases the visibility and understanding of the conditions.
Implementing policies that prevent discrimination of any type concerning hearing loss helps a lot. Providing reasonable accommodations and fostering a culture of support and acceptance is an advancing step toward eliminating this social stigma.
Together, we can eliminate the stigma and build a more inclusive world for all those suffering from hearing loss.
On an individual level:
Consider all the pros and cons of seeking treatment. If you list these out, the benefits will outweigh the drawbacks.
Address the emotions prohibiting you from seeking hearing loss treatment or tinnitus treatment. This will help resolve the issue.
Get involved with organizations, campaigns, or social groups related to your condition. Knowing that you are not alone helps a lot in dealing with your condition. Having support from others with similar experiences gives you a push to face your problem and deal with it with ease.
Supporting such organizations or campaigns can amplify the voices of those affected by tinnitus or hearing loss.
Whenever you postpone treatment or refuse to admit your hearing loss problem or tinnitus problem, you are placing both your mental and physical health at risk. Why suffer from strained relationships or risk health issues because of hearing loss? Do not miss out on the world around you!