Hearing loss is unique to each individual. There can be varying causes, configurations, degrees of severity and types. There are some known commonalities for those that acquire hearing loss. Hearing loss is associated with our overall emotional and physical health and physical independence. Hearing loss can lead to frustrating communication with loved ones, family and friends; resulting in anger and stress. Hearing loss contributes to social isolation or avoidance of social interactions. Hearing loss has the potential to affect performance in the workplace. There is a known association with hearing loss and cognitive decline.
Most individuals wait several years before seeking help. Successful treatment starts with an accurate hearing evaluation to determine the type and degree of hearing loss. Recommendations are then made for appropriate treatment options to improve your hearing as well as physical, emotional and mental benefits.
What is hearing loss and what are the different types?
Hearing loss is the inability to hear sound and/or speech. When we hear, sound travels through our outer, middle and inner ear. The outer ear consists of the visible portion, called the pinna and the ear canal. The middle ear consists of the eardrum and three tiny bones. The inner ear includes the cochlear which is snail shaped which encases tiny hair cells where signals are sent to the brain to be interpreted as sound. If there is a dysfunction in any one of these parts of our ear, it can result in hearing loss.
How do you know if you have hearing loss
Individuals often experience signs of hearing loss long before seeking help. Common signs of hearing loss include asking for repetition of conversation, feeling that others mumble or do not speak clearly, needing increased volume on the television or telephone, inability to hear at their house of worship or difficulty hearing in noisy restaurants.
Individuals with hearing loss often feel stressed or tired due to the effort required to understand conversations. Some may avoid social situations or feel anxious in fear of answering incorrectly.
The best way to confirm if you have hearing loss is to have your hearing evaluated by an audiologist. Your audiologist will review your medical and hearing history. Your ears will be visibly checked with an otoscope for physical abnormalities or wax that could be blocking your ear canal. You will be placed into a soundproof booth for the hearing test and your responses to tones and speech will be measured. The audiologist will discuss your results and discuss treatment options and recommend ways to manage your communication issues.
What are the available treatment options for hearing loss?
The treatment options for hearing loss depend upon the type of hearing loss. A conductive hearing loss is a result of a problem in the outer or middle ear. This could include excessive ear wax, infection or a structural abnormality. Treatment usually consists of a referral to an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat doctor or ENT) who will determine if medical intervention could improve or restore hearing. If medical intervention is not an option, then treatments such as hearing aids or a bone conduction solution may be recommended.
A sensorineural hearing loss occurs when the inner ear or cochlea is damaged. This type of hearing loss is permanent and cannot be restored with medical intervention. Hearing aids are generally the first treatment option. An audiologist will provide hearing aid recommendations based upon the degree of your hearing loss and hearing lifestyle. It is important to work with your audiologist to determine the best style of hearing aid for ease of use, and features that meet your hearing needs. Hearing aids amplify sound and function much like a mini computer. They will be programmed for your specific hearing loss and needs. The hearing aids should be verified to assess their benefit using real ear measurements with follow up visits to ensure success.
Some sensorineural hearing losses do not benefit from hearing aids and a cochlear implant may be a more beneficial solution to provide better access to sound and speech. Cochlear implants are surgically implanted devices into the inner ear or cochlea providing electrical impulses to be interpreted as sound in the brain.
Many hearing aids and cochlear implants are bluetooth enabled and can pair directly to smartphones allowing for direct streaming of phone calls and media. Apps may be downloaded for manual adjustments of the hearing aids or cochlear implants. Wireless technology may be available for streaming from the television, microphones, computers and tablets.
A mixed hearing loss is a result of dysfunction in either the outer or middle ear in addition to the inner ear. This type of hearing loss may be treated with medical intervention and hearing aids.
How can you prevent hearing loss?
In most cases, hearing loss is not preventable. Hearing loss caused by age (leading cause) genetics, or injury to the ear cannot be prevented. Hearing loss due to exposure to loud noise (noise-induced hearing loss) or exposure to ototoxic medications may be prevented.
Noise-induced hearing loss is the second leading cause of hearing loss. This type of hearing loss occurs due to exposure to excessively loud sound. Hearing loss occurs due to damage to the hair cells in the inner ear and cannot be repaired. Hearing loss may result following a single exposure to loud sound, such as a loud blast. Hearing loss may also occur as a result of repeated exposure to unsafe volume for a period of time, such as musical events or working in a loud environment. Three factors contribute to noise-induced hearing loss which include the intensity of the sound, the duration of the exposure to the sound and the proximity to the sound.
Exposure to lawnmowers, machinery, power tools, music, or gunfire are popular sources of loud noise. Preventative measures include avoiding or limiting exposure to the noise, moving away from the noise or using hearing protection if unable to avoid exposure to the noise. Well fitting earplugs, custom earplugs or earmuffs are used for hearing protection.
There are several medications that can also damage the hair cells in the inner ear, resulting in sensorineural hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing or noises). These medications are referred to as ototoxic. These medications may be prescribed to treat high blood pressure and heart disease, serious infections and cancer. They may include high doses of aspirin, anti-inflammatory drugs, loop diuretics and chemotherapy drugs. It is important to discuss with your doctor the potential risk for hearing loss or tinnitus when prescribed medications.
How to live with hearing loss?
Hearing loss can have significant effects on your daily life and workplace. Treatment options are available to manage your hearing loss and improve your quality of life. It is important to find the correct treatment options with a hearing professional who is committed to helping you. A comprehensive approach with quality technology and personalized attention will maximize your benefit to enhance your life and improve your communication needs.