The Ultimate Guide to Hearing Loss
According to the Hearing Health Foundation, about 1 in 5 Americans over the age of 12 has a hearing loss. An eighth of that total, suffer from complete hearing loss in both the ears. Hearing loss is a total or partial inability to hear.
Sound travels from the environment into the ear (outer, middle, and inner ear), where the movement of hair cells sends electrical signals to the auditory nerve in the brain. The brain interprets these signals as meaningful sounds. A break in this complex system can result in various degrees of hearing loss.
Certain factors such as age, genetics, illness, and constant exposure to noise contribute to hearing loss. Have you been wondering how to know if someone has a hearing problem? Read on to discover more about what qualifies as hearing loss.
Types of Hearing Loss
Someone with normal hearing has hearing thresholds of 25 dB or better in both ears. Doctors usually classify hearing loss as either mild, moderate, severe, or profound.
Mild hearing loss is when you can hold a regular conversation with someone, but it’s difficult to follow if there is background noise. People with moderate hearing loss will often ask others to repeat themselves since they seem to hear mumbling. People with severe hearing loss can only understand a person who speaks loudly, while those with profound hearing loss require a hearing aid or an implant.
Depending on which part of the auditory system is affected, there are three different examples of hearing loss. These are:
- Conductive Hearing Loss
When sound cannot get through the middle and outer ear, the ability to transmit sound waves to the inner ear becomes reduced. This condition is known as Conductive hearing loss.
It can be caused by ear infections, which are very common in children, benign tumors, and foreign objects in the ear, among other causes. These conditions are usually treatable by either medication or surgery, which will likely restore hearing.
- Sensorineural Hearing Loss
When the nerves leading to the brain, or the inner ear get damaged, you get Sensorineural hearing loss. Higher-pitched tones may seem muffled, and it becomes difficult to hear words when there is background noise.
This type occurs due to a variety of reasons, including constant exposure to loud noises, aging, head trauma, tumors, and Meniere’s disease. It is usually permanent and rarely treatable with medication or surgery.
- Mixed Hearing Loss
This hearing loss is a combination of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss where the inner, middle, and outer ear is damaged. It can be due to any of the causes mentioned above, or by a mixture. For example, if you have fluid in your middle ear and work around loud noises, the combination could cause mixed hearing loss.
Hearing loss can also be bilateral or unilateral. Bilateral hearing loss relates to when you lose hearing in both ears, while unilateral refers to a loss of hearing in one ear.
Now that we know what the spectrum is, how can you tell whether you have lost your hearing.
Symptoms of Hearing Loss
Many people often come to realize that they have a hearing problem when other people point it out to them. Hearing loss happens gradually, and the sooner you get ahead of the problem, the better. Why? Because some of the conditions are treatable.
Some questions you may want to ask yourself include:
- Do you have difficulty hearing or understanding your family members or co-workers?
- Do you often have to ask someone to repeat themselves in conversation?
- Do you think others mumble when they speak?
- Do you think you need a better phone for sound quality?
- Do people say that you turn the television up too loud?
- Do you no longer hear birds chirping or water running?
- Do you have difficulty hearing the phone or the doorbell ring?
- Do you have a ringing in your ears?
- Have people close to you suggested that you should get your hearing checked?
You should consider seeing an audiologist for a hearing evaluation if you experience three or more of these signs. The process is quick and painless. The doctor will ask you to wear earphones and test your ability to hear different pitches and volumes.
Your audiologist will then determine the best course of treatment for your hearing loss.
Treatment and Management
Learning to live with hearing loss may seem scary at first- it will affect your social interactions and may give you feelings of isolation and frustration. However, with the right tools and moral support, you can go back to living the life you were accustomed to before.
Hearing loss caused by infections can be treated with antibiotics, while for more permanent conditions, your doctor will recommend hearing aids or implants. Getting surgery for tumors, scar tissues, or other blockages could also help in restoring your hearing.
Other assistive listening devices include Telephone Assistive Listening Devices (ALDs), custom earmolds, and custom earplugs. Your audiologist will give you advise on the best option for your condition.