Hearing Loss and You

Hearing loss today is a very common problem. It’s estimated that 20% of the population today has some form of a hearing loss. Although people of all ages can be affected, those over the age of 60 are at greatest risk. Roughly 30% of people over the age of 60 have a significant hearing loss. Hearing loss usually develops later in life, comes on slowly, is permanent and often gets gradually worse.

A lot of people are unaware of the problem because hearing loss can occur so gradually. Hearing loss can occur over a period of 20-25 years. Most people are aware of a hearing loss for 9 years before they seek help by visiting an audiologist or hearing instrument practitioner.

Hearing loss is one of the world’s most common health issues

From the moment we wake up to the time we go to sleep, sound plays an important role in our lives. Whether it’s alerting us to danger, delivering needed information, or making us laugh, smile or cry, sound informs, entertains, and connects us to the world.

Consequently, when we experience hearing problems and begin to lose this vital sense — and eventually, most of us do — we also begin to lose those connections and diminish our ability to be engaged, entertained and informed. It is not uncommon to hear people who suffer from hearing impairment say it impacts their “quality of life.” The sooner we seek treatment for hearing problems, the more successful we will be at slowing the negative social, psychological, cognitive and health effects that come with it.

There are many causes of hearing loss

Age – Known as Presbycusis or nerve damage. It occurs very gradually sometimes unnoticable and it usually occurs in the higher frequency range.

Noise Damage – Hearing loss can result from a single incident or prolonged exposure to military and sport fire arms, industrial and home machinery, or music.

Diseases/trauma – Menieres Disease, otoscleroris, outer ear or ear drum injuries, tumors, birth injury, skull fractures, viral infections.

Medication – Large doses of aspirin, some forms of antibiotics, diuretics, and chemotherapy can cause hearing loss.

Earwax – A build up of earwax in your ear canal can cause hearing loss until it is removed.

The effects of hearing loss are more than physical

While your hearing loss may seem insignificant now -something you can deal with by simply turning the TV louder or asking friends to repeat themselves – it impacts more than you think.

  • Hearing loss can have a negative impact on your ability to learn, socialize and enjoy life.
  • Untreated patients are more likely to miss important information in meetings and phone calls. They are also more likely to make mistakes at work because of miscommunication.
  • Hearing problems can lead to avoidance or withdrawal from social situations, social rejection, and loneliness.
  • Friends often avoid talking to people with hearing loss because of the difficulty communicating.
  • People with uncorrected hearing impairment earn less than people who hear normally.

To make matters worse, studies have shown that the effects of hearing loss are cumulative. Just as muscles grow weak from lack of use, the brain loses its ability to process sounds and recognize speech without regular auditory stimulation. By the time you finally acknowledge your hearing loss is real, you may have already lost the full appreciation of sounds and music you once enjoyed.

Common Types of Hearing Loss

  • Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SNHL): The most common type of hearing loss, SHL is typically the result of damage to the delicate hair cells in the inner-ear organ (the cochlea) that are responsible for picking up sounds. When these hair cells — or the nerves they connect to — are damaged or destroyed by repeated exposure to loud noise, hearing becomes more difficult. Because hearing damage usually affects the highest frequencies first, loud-noise exposure can result in permanent high-frequency hearing loss.
  • Conductive Hearing Loss: This is a type of hearing loss that is typically the result of an infection or blockage in the outer or middle ear. Otitis media (middle-ear infections) can sometimes cause difficulty hearing due to a fluid buildup. Swimmer’s ear or a buildup of earwax may create a blockage outside the eardrum. This type of hearing loss is typically reversible once the infection or blockage clears, or once necessary surgery is performed.
  • Mixed Hearing Loss: Individuals with mixed hearing loss typically suffer from some combination of SHL and a semipermanent conductive hearing loss, such as a malfunction of one of the ossicles (tiny bones that conduct sound) in the middle ear. Hearing may improve after the conductive portion of the hearing loss is resolved through treatment or surgery. SHL is usually permanent.
  • Unilateral Hearing Loss: Hearing loss that occurs in only one ear is referred to as unilateral hearing loss. This can be present at birth, may happen spontaneously, or can occur over the course of several days (referred to as sudden hearing loss). Unilateral hearing loss may delay or otherwise affect speech and language development, and children may have difficulty identifying where sounds are coming from (localization), hearing speech in noisy situations, and hearing from longer distances. Children who are born with unilateral hearing loss can achieve success academically, economically, and socially by focusing on communication development.
  • Sudden Hearing Loss: A sudden loss in hearing, either entirely or partially, within a 24-hour period — or immediately. Degrees of deafness vary, and while sudden hearing loss typically resolves itself within two weeks, it’s possible that hearing may never return. Treatment may include steroids to support the recovery of hearing, but patients who see no change within two weeks are unlikely to see improvement. Those who suffer from a sudden hearing loss should consult their physician immediately, as faster treatment greatly increases chances of a full recovery. About 85 percent of those who seek treatment will recover some of their hearing.
  • High-Frequency Hearing Loss: Those with high-frequency hearing loss can usually hear vowels just fine, but consonant sounds — like f, s, t, and z — become difficult to hear. High-frequency hearing loss is often difficult to diagnose, because it occurs slowly over several decades, like most forms of sensorineural hearing loss. Early signs are an inability to hear higher-octave sounds, like a bird chirping or the voice of a woman or small child. Difficulty conversing in groups or hearing speech in background noise also indicate the possibility of a high-frequency hearing loss. Using hearing protection prior to being exposed to loud noises will help prevent high-frequency hearing loss, while hearing aids are an effective treatment.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I improve my hearing?

Unfortunately, many forms of hearing loss are permanent because there is no cure. Treatment methods that feature amplification fit to your specific hearing loss by hearing care professionals like hearing instrument practitioners and audiologists typically have the highest user satisfaction for improved hearing and improved quality of life.

How can I prevent hearing loss?

Protecting your hearing from noise levels greater than 85 decibels at work and during leisurely activities will greatly reduce your chances of noise-induced hearing loss. Many manufacturing jobs require hearing protection in loud environments, but hearing protection is also recommended while ATV riding, hunting, attending concerts and sporting events, and playing music — all situations where your hearing is vulnerable.

What should I do if I get sudden hearing loss?

See your physician immediately; sudden hearing loss is considered a medical emergency. Sudden hearing loss typically resolves on its own within two weeks, but it might not — meaning your hearing might be gone for good. Seeking medical assistance within 72 hours of the onset of sudden hearing loss greatly improves the chances that your hearing will recover.

At what age do people normally start getting hearing loss?

Since hearing loss is cumulative, hearing loss begins as an infant and continues throughout life. Most individuals don’t begin to experience symptoms until their late 20s or early 30s, and by age 45 a yearly hearing check becomes of greater importance. One-third of people beyond the age of 65 have some degree of hearing loss, however mild or severe, and that share of the elderly population increases as they age.

Are some types of hearing loss easier to treat?

Hearing loss is a puzzle that our professionals love to solve, and it is based on your individual experiences, lifestyle, and severity of impairment. There is no one-size-fits-all treatment method for hearing loss — it’s based on the sounds that you can’t hear, which vary greatly, and the sounds that you want to be able to hear. A quality hearing system from a reputable manufacturer isn’t effective until an experienced, qualified hearing care professional programs the technology properly based on your unique hearing needs.

Is hearing loss hereditary?

Though it is difficult to say what genetic factors predispose individuals to hearing loss, there seems to be a connection. Some genetic disorders present at birth cause a hearing loss, but in the absence of a disease, hearing loss can still have a basis in your genetics.

Are there any health downsides to not treating hearing loss?

Research has established a relationship between hearing loss and dementia. There is strong evidence that hearing loss accelerates brain-tissue atrophy, particularly in areas of the brain that auditory nerves would stimulate but can’t because they aren’t receiving a signal (due to a hearing loss). These areas of the brain are also related to memory and speech. Individuals with a mild hearing loss are three times as likely to fall down than those without, and the likelihood of falls increases as degree of hearing loss increases. Hearing loss has also been linked to diabetes, cardiovascular disease, sickle-cell anemia, and other circulatory conditions.