Food For Thought

Hearing Problems Can Be Difficult to Solve

by John E. Bonfadini, Ed.D.,
Contributing Columnist
Professor Emeritus, George Mason University

John E. Bonfadini
John E. Bonfadini

A car pulls up next to you at a stoplight and your car begins to vibrate. The car is equipped with a 100-watt amplifier and high-powered Bose acoustic speakers. The teen in the car is submersed in bone-grinding music at glass-shattering volume. The annoyance lasts only a moment before the driver moves on toward another unsuspecting decibel-shock victim. 

I, too, have my CD volume turned up a bit higher than most drivers. But, my reason for listening to music at an increased volume isn’t to impress other people. It’s much simpler: I’ve lost a significant amount of my hearing. Young people think they are infallible. They don’t understand that unlike their sound system, replacement parts for hearing loss are not available at the audio store. Yes, I know you can buy hearing aids, but these man-made devices don’t come close to producing the hearing quality of the original God-given equipment. One of my favorite Willie Nelson songs has a line that says, “Nothing lasts forever except forever and you, my love.” We can add hearing loss to that line: Lose your hearing, and it’s gone forever.

As a youngster, I had hearing problems. I recall my parents taking me to a hospital in Monessen, Pa., for a ringing in my ears. My dad also had hearing difficulties, but never purchased a hearing aid. I’ve reflected on the possible reasons for my hearing loss. Some are probably hereditary, but the greater portion resulted from insufficient knowledge or basic stupidity. Hereditary hearing losses are difficult for the individual to affect, but environmental factors are controllable. Prevention of hearing loss is simple — wear ear protection when loud noise is present. During my years of teaching shop I insisted that students wear eye protection, but was more lax with noise protection. States have passed school laws requiring eye protection in lab situations, but no such laws exist for hearing protection. I can remember complaining about the installation of a large, noisy air-handling unit in a lab. I got little sympathy from the architect or school administrators, whose primary concerns centered more on cost containment.

Hunters Take Notice

Hearing loss usually occurs in small steps, except in the case of illness. I remember my first major hearing loss, after I sighted a .30-06 rifle without ear protection. It was the day before the opening of deer season. I had gone to Clark Brothers in Warrenton to sight my rifle. When I got there I noticed a broken mount on the scope, which I fixed. I then went outside without bore-sighting the rifle, and without ear protection, and began shooting. I kept firing under the covered range until I finally had an acceptable pattern. On the way home my ears and head hurt. It took quite a while for the pain to go away. On the first day of work after the deer-hunting trip, I noticed I had difficulty hearing people on the phone. A trip to the doctor ended in a noise-damage diagnosis. I was given vitamins and told that some of my hearing might come back over time. Well, it didn’t, and my work in a noisy environment, combined with hunting and other activities without hearing protection, led to more hearing loss.

What’s Your View?

Obviously, there are at least two sides to every issue. Do you have a different view? This column is meant to provoke thought, so keep sending comments. Each one is read with the utmost interest. Send e-mail to:, or send written responses to the editor.  Mail will be forwarded to the author.

People, especially family members, aren’t very sympathetic to folks with hearing loss. Conversations are laced with words like: “Can’t you hear? How many times do I have to repeat myself?” “Turn the TV down,” “You’re not listening to me,” “You only hear what you want to hear,” and the list goes on. My wife just tried to ask me a question from the bottom of the steps. You can now add the words “hear me?” to the list (her finishing comment after she repeated her question). Talking to hearing-impaired individuals from a distance doesn’t work. The more directly you speak to them, the better the chance you will be understood.

Hearing Aids

Hearing loss affects other people far more than a similar vision problem. For example, if someone has a vision problem, the TV can’t be adjusted to compensate: The person must wear glasses. A person with a hearing problem can turn up the TV volume. That solves the problem for the person who has difficulty hearing, but is very annoying to others who are also trying to watch the program. Fuzzy hearing gets in the way of communications far more than fuzzy eyesight. One solution is to get a hearing aid or hearing aids. At the age of 55 I finally purchased my hearing aids, which have become both a solution and a problem.

Hearing aids give the handicapped their own individual volume control, which seems like a solution to the problem. But hearing aids increase the volume of all noise, and don’t discriminate like the real ear. I’ve watched the commercials tell how good the newer aids are at eliminating background noise. That may be true, but they are just not connected to the brain like your real hearing. Read the small print to get the real story. Glasses are viewed as fashionable. Hearing aids are viewed as a sign of old age. There is nothing fashionable about them. They can also be a pain to wear. When I first got my hearing aids, the salesman told me that I’d hear things I hadn’t heard for a long time. He was correct — I did hear the birds singing; but I also heard how loud I sound going to the bathroom. I now make sure the door is always fully closed.

Most people with hearing loss hear most of what is said. They may just miss a few sounds, causing the sentence to be incorrectly interpreted. An example: Someone may respond to a question with the words “that’s best.” I might hear “that’s west,” which causes a slow response while my brain tries to make sense of the words; or, I may ask for the statement to be repeated by saying “what?”

Get Help

Over the years, I’ve tried to be very up-front about my hearing loss. I’ve asked my students to raise their hands so I can walk toward them when they are speaking. Also, female students were particularly difficult to hear, since they usually talked more softly and in a higher pitch. Most hearing losses are caused by inability to hear higher sound frequencies. If you know someone who has difficulty hearing, encourage them to get proper help and a hearing aid. The next best thing you can do is to remember that the person has a hearing problem, and adjust your method of communication to create the best possible environment for this person to hear and understand your words.

As the old saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Make sure your children get regular hearing check-ups and wear ear protection around noise or when swimming. Their school performance can be affected by a hearing loss, which could go undetected for years. Rely on common sense, not future technology.

What’s Your View?

Obviously, there are at least two sides to every issue. Do you have a different view? This column is meant to provoke thought, so keep sending comments. Each one is read with the utmost interest. Send e-mail to:, or send written responses to the editor.  Mail will be forwarded to the author.

Teacher Honor Roll

In our January issue we asked our readers to nominate their best teachers for our teacher honor roll, and the mail came pouring in! We will publish a few each month until we have acknowledged all of our fine educators.

Nominator: Thomas T. Earles
Teacher’s Name:
Mr. Lawrence G. Wilson
School System:  George Washington High School – Danville, VA
Primary Subject: Math - Geometry

Mr. Wilson changed me from a student who dreaded math to one who loved math.


Nominator: K. Gregory Dixon
Teacher’s Name:
Wandalyn Boley
School System: Prince William County — Stonewall Jackson
Primary Subject: Music — Choir 

A dedicated teacher who cares, she encourages you to do your best!


Nominator: Nancy House
Teacher’s Name:
David Hardy
School System: Prince William County Schools, Brentsville District High School
Primary Subject: Drafting

He was a perfectionist, highly knowledgeable, creative, and caring.



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