Health Care

Listen carefully

Hilton Head Island jazz singer Teri Rini Powers realized she might have a hearing problem two years ago. She was driving her car with the top down and couldn't hear her son honking his horn to get her attention in traffic.

Fortunately, her hearing impairment didn't result in an accident. But it could have, and it was a wake-up call for the woman who had no idea her hearing was diminished.

Powers realized she had been reading lips when people were speaking to her. She thought everyone was mumbling all the time. She had grown accustomed to not being able to hear herself sing.

Powers decided it was time to have her hearing checked. She made an appointment with licensed audiologist Monica Wiser and was shocked to learn she had significant hearing loss. She was told she needed hearing aids if she wanted things to get better.

"I guess we are just people in denial," she said. "The funny thing is -- now the difference is so incredible."

A professional musician since age 13, Powers has been surrounded by blaring sound systems for many years and thinks it is the cause of her hearing loss. She said since getting her hearing aids, her singing has improved, there is less strain in her voice, and she can hear what's going on.

"All of a sudden it's like a new world," Powers said. "People think I'm getting smarter." But she said the truth is she's now responding correctly in conversations because, simply, she can hear.

Wiser, of Beaufort Audiology & Hearing Care on Lady's Island, wants others with hearing loss to have those same kind of results. In honor of Better Hearing and Speech Month, Wiser has joined the Better Hearing Institute in promoting an online hearing questionnaire. She said the Across America Hearing Check Challenge is a quick and confidential way for people to find out if they might have hearing loss and need a comprehensive hearing evaluation with an audiologist.

Wiser said a lot of people -- like Powers -- don't realize they have any hearing loss until they wear hearing aids and hear the difference.

The difference between hearing and not hearing can affect a person's quality of life, Wiser said. It can be frustrating for the person with hearing loss and for the people in their lives who constantly have to repeat themselves. It can cause delays in speech and language development in children. It can have psychological and social impacts. She said it can even dictate how much money people make.

"People really don't know how disabling it can be," said Wiser, who has a genetic hearing loss.

An audiologist with Palmetto Ear, Nose and Throat on Hilton Head, Kate Shea said people who suspect they might have hearing loss should first have their ears checked for wax, which is the most common cause of hearing impairment. If the ears are clear, the patient should schedule a diagnostic hearing test.

Shea said audiologists are trained to do the testing and rehabilitation. They don't have the medical background of an ear, nose and throat doctor, but they are trained to know when there is a medical problem and can refer a patient to a specialist if needed.

Shea said time is of the essence when it comes to hearing impairments.

"The longer you wait to get help for hearing loss, the harder it is to use hearing aids," she said. "The newer hearing aids are fantastic and sophisticated and do great things, but if you've forgotten the way the real world sounds, it's quite a shock when you put (them) on."