And How It Affects You
Hearing loss affects around 48 million and is defined as a reduced ability to hear sounds. About 10% of Americans who suffer from hearing loss also suffer from tinnitus.
Difficulty understanding words, especially in crowds or loud environments is one of the most common symptoms of hearing loss. Additional symptoms include:
- Trouble hearing sounds
- Frequently asking others to speak more slowly or loudly
- Needing to turn up radio or TV volume
- Withdrawal from conversations
- Avoidance of social settings
- Muffled speech
Your Ears and Causes for Hearing Loss
Our ears are made up of three parts: the external, middle, and inner. The external ear is the part of the ear that we can see and leads to the eardrum. The external ear is the part of our ears that collects and conducts soundwaves.
The middle ear is a closed chamber behind the eardrum that includes bones which transmit sound vibrations to the inner ear.
The inner ear has microscopic hair cells that are bathed in fluid. These hair cells are sound receptors. The movement from the bones in the inner ear activates the cell’s hearing nerve endings and sends an electrical impulse to the brain.
There are different types of hearing loss, each related to one of several causes. Presbycusis or age-related hearing loss is the most common cause, other causes may include:
- Noise exposure
- Head trauma
- Virus or disease
The three main types of hearing loss are: Sensorineural, Conductive, and Mixed Hearing Loss. We will break down each type and the causes for each.
The most common type of hearing loss, sensorineural hearing impairment is a result of a slow, gradual loss of sound receptors and nerve endings. This happens in the inner ear where ear nerves and hair cells have become damaged. Individuals with this kind of hearing loss may experience a lack of sensitivity to sound or lack of interpretation of sound. Understanding of speech can be difficult when there is background noise. Hearing sensitivity is also better for low tones than for high-pitch tones. While hearing loss can’t be reversed, sensorineural hearing loss can be treated and helped with the use of hearing aids, or in some cases, a cochlear implant.
Causes of Sensorineural Hearing Loss
- Prolonged noise exposure
- Measles, m
- umps, and other viral infections
- Ototoxic drugs (medications that damage hearing)
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- High fever
- Ménière’s disease
- Autoimmune attacks
Conductive hearing loss is caused by blockages of the external canal, damage to the eardrum, infections and diseases of the middle ear, and disruption of the bones in the middle ear. Individuals with this type of hearing loss will have issues hearing in quiet environments and may hear better in noisier ones. They also hear well over the phone. Conductive hearing loss can be treated with medicine or surgery.
Causes of Conductive Hearing Loss
- Ear canal or middle ear fluid or pus buildup
- Wax buildup
- Dislocation of the bones of the middle ear
- Foreign object in the ear canal
Mixed Hearing Loss
Mixed hearing loss occurs when an individual suffers from a combination of sensorineural and conductive hearing loss.
Degrees Of Hearing Loss
Along with varying types of hearing loss, there are also differing degrees of hearing loss – mild, moderate, severe, and profound.
Mild hearing loss can be categorized as the ability to hear some speech sounds but experiencing a difficulty with soft sounds.
Moderate hearing loss occurs when an individual may hear almost no speech or struggles to understand when another person is speaking at a normal level.
Severe hearing loss happens when an individual can hear no speech when a person speaks at a normal level and can only hear some loud sounds.
Profound hearing loss can be classified as the inability to hear any speech and only very loud sounds.
Other Descriptions of Hearing Loss
- Unilateral or Bilateral – Hearing loss that occurs in one ear (unilateral) or both ears (bilateral).
- Pre-lingual or Post-lingual – Hearing loss that happens before a person learns to talk (pre-lingual) or after (post-lingual).
- Symmetrical or Asymmetrical – Hearing loss is the same in both ears (symmetrical) or is different in each ear (asymmetrical).
- Progressive or Sudden – Hearing loss that gets worse over time (progressive) or happens quickly (sudden).
Bottom line, aging, noise exposure, and diseases that are linked to hearing impairment can be the root causes for hearing loss for you or your family. The use of hearing aids and surgical implants can treat and improve hearing loss depending on the degree of hearing loss. Understanding the type of hearing loss as well as the varying degrees of hearing loss will help you make a better informed decision when trying to find a practitioner who can help you treat your or your family member’s hearing loss.