Hearing loss is one of the biggest health concerns in the U.S. It is the third most commonly reported physical condition, following arthritis and heart disease. It affects roughly 20 percent of the American population and can strike people of all ages.
The most common causes of hearing loss are exposure to excessive noise and aging.
Hearing loss is usually a progressive condition that worsens over time. Symptoms can appear so gradually that you may be completely unaware of it for years. Unfortunately, even after realizing there is a problem, many people wait for years before they visit an audiologist. At times, it is only when a family member insists on it that help is sought.
Knowing the signs can help you to take action sooner. Any of the following might indicate hearing loss:
- Frequently asking people to repeat what they have said.
- Feeling like others mumble when they speak.
- Having difficulty following conversations in which background noise is present.
- Turning up the volume on the television or radio.
- Avoiding social gatherings in noisy places.
Often, a family member or friend will be the first to notice a hearing problem. Since treatment is most effective when begun early, if you think you might be suffering from diminished hearing, do not hesitate to schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist. The sooner the better!
How Is Hearing Loss Diagnosed?
In order to diagnose hearing loss, an audiologist will review your medical history, discuss your symptoms and perform a physical examination followed by a hearing evaluation consisting of a series of audiological tests.
What Are the Types of Hearing Loss?
Treatment recommendations will depend on your type of hearing loss.
There are three types:
Sensory/neural (formerly known as sensorineural) hearing loss is the most common type of hearing loss. It involves a problem with the inner ear. Sensorineural hearing loss is usually treated with hearing aids. It may be caused by any of these:
- Noise exposure
- Head trauma
- Aging (presbycusis)
- Viral disease
- Autoimmune ear disease
- Meniere’s disease
- Malformation or abnormality of the inner ear
Conductive hearing loss occurs when sound vibrations are dampened as they pass through the middle ear system, from the eardrum to the inner ear. Conductive hearing loss is sometimes remedied by surgery or medications. In chronic cases, it may be treated with hearing aids. It may be caused by:
- Ear infection.
- Fluid in the ears.
- Malformation or abnormalities of the outer or middle ear.
- Impacted earwax.
- Foreign object in the ear.
- Perforated eardrum.
Mixed hearing loss is a combination of both types. Treatment might involve a combination of medication, surgery and/or hearing aids.
In addition to the different types of hearing loss, it is important to consider the extent to which a patient is experiencing symptoms. Hearing loss is further categorized as being either monaural or binaural.
Unilateral hearing loss affects one ear only, while bilateral hearing loss affects both ears. The term single-sided deafness is sometimes used when one ear hears almost nothing and the other ear hears normally or almost normally. Asymmetric hearing loss means both ears are affected, but the type or degree of hearing loss is not the same.
Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
Noise-induced hearing loss is the most common type experienced by younger individuals. It can be caused by exposure to a single loud sound, such as a gunshot or explosion, or by longer exposures to loud noise over a period of time.
As sound exceeds 85 decibels of sound pressure level, it is important to limit exposure time to avoid damage to the auditory system.
Activities that are likely to put people at risk for noise-induced hearing loss include hunting, riding a motorcycle, using power tools, working around heavy machinery, listening to music at high volumes, playing in a band or orchestra and attending live concerts. An estimated 15 percent of Americans aged 20 to 69 have hearing loss that may have been caused by noise exposure. Many of these activities can be made safer by wearing properly inserted earplugs and/or earmuffs.
Hearing Loss Prevention
Protecting your ears is the key to hearing loss prevention. If your job exposes you to hazardous noises, make sure proper safety equipment that meets state and federal regulations is provided. Hearing protection–earplugs and earmuffs–is essential when working around loud equipment. It’s always a good idea to bring along earplugs if you’re participating in a noisy recreational activity (e.g., a football game or rock concert), as well.
At home, limit your exposure to noisy activities and keep the volume down on the television, stereo and especially when it comes to personal listening devices like MP3 players. Prevent other types of hearing loss by refraining from inserting cotton swabs or other objects into your ears, blowing your nose gently through both nostrils and quitting smoking. Studies show those who use tobacco are more likely to suffer from hearing loss.
Regardless of your age, have your hearing tested regularly. Early detection is key. While noise-related hearing loss can’t be reversed, you can still take steps to avoid further damage to your hearing.
Call our office at (808) 262-6673 for more information or to schedule an appointment.