Over the past decade, I have been privileged to help many people hear the world around them. A common question that comes up during an initial evaluation revolves around a connection between hearing loss and vision loss. The conversation generally starts with a patient asking, “Why don’t I hear my son as well when I can’t see him?” The next question is almost always, “Is this a problem with my ears or with my eyes? I’ve been noticing this problem is getting worse as my vision gets worse.”
Vision and Hearing Go Together
Basically, the patient is asking if the problem is with their eyes or their ears. Most people don’t realize that we use both our eyes and our ears to listen. Yes, I understand how odd it sounds to think about listening with your eyes. But, much of the language is visible on the lips and body language tells us a lot about what people are saying and what they actually mean. Many times, you can tell a person’s true intent behind their words by reading the expressions of their face and/ or body language. As our vision gets worse, the ability to read these expressions and pick up on subtle facial cues becomes reduced. In turn, this leads to more difficulty understanding.
We hear people better when we have a clear view of their face and are within a reasonable distance, usually 3 to 8 feet. When we talk about lip reading skills, we’re not talking about the movie quality where someone is reading the lips of a conversation from across the street. We are talking about the basic cues that we all learn and know from a young age to help supplement what our ears are picking up. The most common answer to our patient’s question is that they have had a hearing loss that’s been progressively getting worse for several years. Now that they’re noticing decreased vision, it seems that their hearing loss has compounded.
Hearing Loss Treatment is Critical
The sooner we treat hearing loss, the better we protect the brain and allow the auditory cortex to work how it’s designed. By limiting the time that our brain is deprived of accurate, consistent auditory stimulation, we improve the chances of maintaining good understanding, even if we lose the ability to cheat using visual cues. Early identification and treatment are essential to avoiding auditory deprivation and good brain health.