Hearing loss happens when any part of the ear or auditory (hearing) system isn’t working the way it should. There are various degrees of hearing loss, ranging from mild/moderate to severe/profound.
Hearing loss presents in a variety of different ways. Some people are born with hearing loss, others experience it before or after learning to speak. Hearing loss can occur in one or both ears. Hearing loss can develop slowly over time or occur suddenly. It can even fluctuate between getting better and getting worse repeatedly as time passes.
Of the people in the United States ages 12+ has hearing loss in one or both ears.
Of American Adults ages 18+ report some trouble hearing.
Million U.S. Adults could benefit from hearing aids.
There are many ways to tell if you or someone you love is experiencing hearing loss. Some symptoms to look out for are:
It’s important to remember that signs of hearing loss can sometimes be difficult to notice as they happen over time, especially when it comes to age-related hearing loss. So, if you notice anything out of the ordinary, don’t ignore it!
No matter how severe the hearing loss, there are ways to address it.
Now that we know what hearing loss is, let’s take a look into the different types that exist. There are three main types of hearing loss, and they all affect people a little differently.
Conductive Hearing Loss:
This hearing loss is caused by something that stops sound from getting past the outer or middle ear. Usually, conductive hearing loss can be treated through medicine or by surgery.
This is caused by an issue in the way the inner ear or hearing nerve works. Depending on the severity, this can be treated with hearing aids and/or cochlear implants.
In this case, hearing loss is caused by both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss. Typically, mixed hearing loss requires treatment of the conductive issue first followed by appropriately addressing the sensorineural hearing loss.
No matter what kind of hearing loss one may be experiencing, the good news is there are audiologists (hearing specialists) available who are dedicated to helping the hearing impaired!
Hearing loss may occur in one ear (unilateral hearing loss) or both ears (bilateral hearing loss). The causes for hearing loss can vary – some may experience permanent hearing loss or temporary hearing loss.
Conductive Hearing Loss occurs when there are issues with the ear canal, ear drum, or the middle ear. A few examples of conductive hearing loss causes include:
Sensorineural Hearing Loss is also known as nerve-related hearing loss and is usually due to problems with the inner ear. Some cases of sensorineural hearing loss is referred to as cookie bite hearing loss. This occurs when the mid-range frequency is affected between 500-2,000 Hz.
Potential causes of sensorineural hearing loss include:
Mixed Hearing Loss is caused by a combination of conductive damage in the outer or middle ear and sensorineural damage in the inner ear or auditory nerve.
As you can imagine, there are a variety of risk factors associated with hearing loss. Some of them are preventable while others are largely unavoidable.
If you will be exposed to preventable risk factors, it is recommended you wear hearing protection, such as ear plugs, to dampen the sound and reduce the impact on your ears. Wearing hearing protection also lowers your risk of getting hearing loss or experiencing tinnitus and headaches. There are a variety of options out there: foam, pre-molded, wax, silicone, and more! If possible, make wearing hearing protection a habit.
Depending on what symptoms you are experiencing, an audiologist may choose to do one or all of these tests. Below are the most common types of audiological evaluations.
|Pure-tone Testing||Speech Testing||Middle Ear Testing||Otoacoustic Emissions Testing (OAEs)|
|This test is used to learn the faintest tone a person can hear at different pitches (or high and low frequencies). Earphones are used so that testing can be done for each ear individually. The results are shown on an audiogram.||Speech testing may be done in a quiet or loud environment, since difficulty understanding speech in background noise is fairly common. The test records the faintest speech that can be heard, and then the audiologist records how well words were recognized and repeated back correctly.||During this evaluation, the audiologist will perform a tympanometry test, which looks for fluid in the middle ear, perforation (holes) in the eardrum, or wax buildup in the ear canal. They will also take acoustic reflex measures to see if they can pinpoint the possible location of the hearing problem as well as the type of hearing loss.||OAEs help audiologists see if there is a blockage in the outer ear canal, or if there are fluids in the middle ear. People with normal hearing produce OAEs, and those with hearing loss greater than 25-30 decibels (dB) do not. This type of test is commonly used to detect congenital hearing loss.|
While these are the most common kinds of hearing tests (audiological evaluations), there is one more test that bears mentioning: Thrive by Cognivue. Thrive is a 6-minute computer-based screening that involves watching a screen and moving a joystick. It’s a simple test to take and doesn’t depend on hearing. It is designed to test five main brain functions: memory, your perception of spatial relationships among objects (visuospatial), executive function, reaction time and processing speed.
With all these different tests available, you can rest assured that the diagnosis for your hearing loss will be identified, no matter the severity or cause.
Excessive production of earwax may also put you at risk for ear infections or earwax impaction. If you notice any discharge or ear drainage (wet or dry ball of wax) or smelly earwax in your ears, seek medical attention right away.
Treatment for hearing loss depends on the kind of hearing loss one is experiencing, so there is no one-size-fits all approach. Hearing tests are conducted in order to determine the best treatment option for each individual. So, what options are there?
Though every person is different, in many cases conductive hearing loss can be addressed in one of three ways: surgery, amplification, or medication.
In cases where earwax is the culprit for decreased hearing, an audiologist can perform professional earwax removal (cerumen irrigation, suction, flushing, or manual removal) to address the condition.
Sensorineural hearing loss can be caused by a wide variety of factors, which means the treatments can also vary widely. The most common type is irreversible sensorineural hearing loss, which can be managed with hearing aids.
For severe hearing loss, cochlear implants may be necessary. If you experience sudden hearing loss , it could be considered viral, indicating that treatment with corticosteroids will work. Or if the hearing loss is caused by pressure changes or head trauma, emergency surgery may be required.
Audiologists will usually start by treating the conductive issue with surgery or medication and then determine how to best address the sensorineural hearing loss.
Other treatments that could be used in conjunction with the abovementioned methods include speech therapy, aural rehabilitation, cognitive behavioral therapy (for phonophobia and hyperacusis) and Linere tinnitus treatment.
To date, there are various studies ongoing to pave the way for further advancements in hearing technology. From the integration of Artificial Intelligence in hearing aids to hearing loss pills, the future for hearing loss treatment is very promising.
The human hearing range is a description of the frequencies and sound levels that we should be able to hear under normal circumstances. When you have any form of hearing loss, your hearing range changes.
Because there are many different ways of experiencing hearing loss, the methods of preventing it will also vary. Though you may not be able to completely prevent hearing loss, you can take steps to protect yourself. Here are a few tips we suggest you follow to protect your hearing as much as possible:
Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself and ask for what you need. Your hearing is vital for your quality of life and being proactive about how you care for your ears can go a long way in protecting yourself from unnecessary harm.
Untreated hearing loss can impact both your physical and mental well-being. In fact, brain scans have even shown that hearing loss can speed up the process of the brain’s deterioration (atrophy). Good hearing helps with walking and balance, which means that hearing loss can lead to frequent falls.
When untreated, hearing loss can advance to social isolation and even depression. Why? As communication becomes harder and more frustrating, those experiencing hearing loss withdraw more and more, leading to loneliness and isolation. Studies have also shown that severely impaired hearing is five times more likely to cause dementia. Finally, hearing loss could also give rise to tinnitus, a ringing of the ears, which can have a severe impact on sleep and concentration, leading to fatigue.
Audiologists are trained to diagnose and address hearing and balance disorders. They play an integral role in all aspects of hearing loss, from diagnosis, hearing aid fitting, to hearing aid programming, adjustments, and hearing aid maintenance. Audiologists can also monitor your hearing and recommend if there is any need to upgrade your hearing aids.