What If Hearing Loss Meant Your Life?

Being hard of hearing isn’t the same as being 100-percent deaf, and yet there are situations where being either can have the same results.  A recent article caught my eye in the Silent World paper.li August 13 edition. It was titled "During a Crisis, Deaf People Are Left Behind: What the Hearing Communities Can Do to Help."

At first, I passed it by, because I am not 100-percent deaf and felt it would not apply to me. Yet, something pulled me back to the simple white and red hospital icon. Some inner fear pulled at me, demanded that I click on the link. I was glad I did. 

When you think of emergency situations, those that can mean life or death, you don't necessarily think about hearing loss as a factor. But while reading the article, it became very clear that hearing plays a vital role in survivability and response. 

For example, two weeks ago, I was half asleep and rousing my boyfriend to get up to drive to Ohio when my dog started howling. And while I pleaded with her, petted her and then yelled in frustration, she wouldn't stop.

"It's the smoke alarm," my boyfriend said. I couldn't hear it. My dog could hear it. My boyfriend could hear it. I bet my next-door neighbors who were assuredly awake now that my dog was howling could hear it. Everyone could hear it but me. I lived there. I slept there. Alone. 

Deafinitely Wanderlust's (DW) article highlights a scary truth—that the ability to hear can influence response time, situational understanding and the need for alternative emergency signals. While DW’s article is written for the deaf community, it is equally applicable to those with severe hearing losses. I know for me, with a 70-percent loss in one ear and 80-percent loss in another, if something happened like a fire, a flood, or anything else involving high-frequency sounding signals, I would be in big trouble.

Why? Because the following things are high-frequency sounds: ambulance sirens, police sirens, fire alarms, smoke alarms, carbon monoxide alarms, microwave beeps, oven timers, whistles and tornado sirens.

Based off the above, if the only indication of it happening was the typical high-frequency emergency alarm, I could die in a fire, a flood, a tornado or of carbon monoxide poisoning. I may not know what was going on until it was too late. Obviously smell and instinct play a role, but sound is a huge sense that allows our brains to quickly identify with a danger and develop an appropriate response.

Some of DW’s points, while written for the deaf communities, are also extremely accurate for those with hearing loss: 

"In a wake of natural disasters and crises, the Hearing communities can respond quickly and sometimes have chances to protect themselves. They can hear the warnings, alarms, or even screams about the upcoming disasters." 

DW is right. Hearing helps alert your brain to an emergency and enables your body to respond quickly and appropriately, often quickly enough to save your life. Hearing loss impairs this transfer of information, essentially slowing down or completely denying the entrance of "emergency response" sounds, thus creating either a delayed reaction or no reaction at all, both of which could be extremely dangerous. 

DW provides a good example:

"Imagine if the alarm sounds through the building because the fire spreads like a wildfire at night and Deaf people slept through it because they didn't hear the alarm since there was no flashing light warnings?" 

Again, I'm not deaf, but my hearing loss makes it so I can't hear these sounds even when I'm awake if I don’t wear my hearing aids. Between my time in college and living in three different states, I've slept through a total of 11 fire alarms.

There is also a feeling of uncertainty and anxiety when you don't understand what's going on. This can lead to confusion, not being able to process or respond appropriately and essentially getting stuck. When you don't know what's happening, you can't respond, so you shut down and stand still.

DW goes on to talk about a lack of accessibility for those in the deaf communities, including not being able to hear announcements though media, lack of closed captioning, areas without deaf-awareness or accommodations and more, but while DW asks for those in the Hearing community to remember those who can't hear, it made me think more about what those with hearing loss can do. 

 1. Install Visual Emergency Alarms

Install alarms with flashing lights. Having a visual element that would be obvious during crisis would enable those with hearing loss to have a better chance of understanding the emergency and responding appropriately.

 2. Check Alarm Volumes

Setting alarms to volumes high enough to hear is important. Most alarms are high-frequency sounds, so try to find a volume that you can hear when you’re awake and will rouse you when you’re asleep.

 3. Designate An Emergency Person

In families with individuals with hearing loss, it’s important to designate one or more emergency persons who can hear emergency signals and alarms. Go over and practice emergency procedures as a family so everyone understands their role.

 4. Tell Authorities Immediately

If you end up in any type of emergency situation, fire, flood or tornado, tell emergency personnel immediately about your hearing loss and how best to communicate with you. Letting police, fireman and emergency relief responders know you can’t hear well will help them know to slow down, speak clearly and ensure their lips are visible.

 5. Watch Your Pets

Animals have a much better hearing range than humans do, especially dogs. If you have a dog, look to them for their attitude, response and body language. They will be able to hear sirens and alarms before you will, so look for them to start howling, pacing and acting upset.

My dog is not a trained hearing dog, but she knows when I can't hear things. Her body language, low-frequency growls and howls and the occasional heavy paw to the arm or face are all signals that in the last four years, we have developed together to survive. I know my food is done in the microwave because she runs to go sit in the kitchen when the beep goes off. I know the oven timer is done because she runs to the kitchen, sits in front of the oven, and if I'm not quick enough, starts howling at the timer's high-pitched beep.

She howls. And that howl is also for the smoke alarm when it goes off, the smoke alarm when the batteries are low, the fire alarm in the apartment building and the tornado siren that gets tested once a month.

I sleep with my hearing aids by my bedside now, close enough that I can put them in my ears in about 10 seconds flat. During the day, I wear them all the time, because with them in, I can hear the emergency sounds and respond quickly. 

Hearing loss left untreated could put you in dangerous situations and make a difference in how quickly and appropriately you respond. Hearing aids are key to helping in emergency situations during the day, and having a solid plan of action for when you aren’t wearing your hearing aids (i.e. at night) is essential to ensuring you are always prepared.

If this sounds at all familiar, it might be time to get your hearing checked. Find a local professional near you today by clicking here.



By Sarah Bricker