What is hearing loss?
Hearing loss is the condition of not being able to hear well enough to understand normal conversational speech and enjoy everyday life. You also have a hard time discriminating certain sounds and catching word endings. You may strain to hear people especially when there is background noise or when there is a distance between you and the talker.
There are three types of hearing loss:
- A conductive hearing loss is a reduction in hearing due to a disorder in the outer ear (ear canal) or middle ear.
- A sensorineural hearing loss is a reduction in hearing due to a disorder in the inner ear or auditory nerve.
- A mixed hearing loss is a reduction in hearing due to a combination of a conductive and sensorineural hearing loss.
A sensorineural hearing loss may be permanent. For example, permanent damage to the delicate hair cells (never endings) in the inner ear occurs when exposed to loud noise. In contrast, a conductive hearing loss, which could be caused by excessive earwax build-up, a punctured eardrum, or fluid in the middle ear, can usually be treated medically and can often be reversed.
What are the risk factors of hearing loss?
Hearing loss due to exposure at work is one of the most common work-related illnesses. This includes exposure to loud noises, as well as exposure to chemicals that are harmful to the ear. Other risk factors include aging, premature birth, and chemotherapy agents.
Symptoms and Causes
What are symptoms of hearing loss?
Hearing loss can occur suddenly or can develop over several years and be very gradual. In fact, you might not notice it is happening. You may have trouble understanding people, especially in a crowded setting.
If you experience some of these symptoms, you may need to be checked for a possible hearing loss:
- Feeling of fullness in the ear
- Gradual hearing loss with age
- Gradual hearing loss in one ear only
- Ringing in one ear
- Pain, reduced hearing, fluid sensation in ear
- Having difficulty understanding conversation in a group
- Increasing the volume of radio and TV
- Trouble hearing on the telephone
- Asking people to repeat themselve
- Thinking people mumble when they speak
- Becoming more impatient, irritable, frustrated, or withdrawn
- Avoiding social occasions, family gatherings, and noisy environments
What causes hearing loss?
Noise exposure and aging are the most common causes of hearing loss. Other possible causes of hearing loss include:
- Ear infections, meningitis, or other diseases
- Tumor pressing on the hearing nerve
- Chemical exposures
Diagnosis and Tests
When is it necessary to call a doctor about hearing loss?
There are two healthcare professionals that can help you with your hearing. You can talk with a physician specializing in the medical and surgical management of hearing loss called an otolaryngologist (Ear, Nose and Throat, ENT) doctor. If you experience a sudden hearing loss, or sudden deafness, call an otolaryngologist right away as this is considered a. medical emergency. An audiologist is the hearing healthcare professional who will conduct the hearing examination and will provide rehabilitative services (such as fitting hearing aids). Typically, an ENT and audiologist work together to provide you with optimal hearing healthcare.
What tests are done for hearing loss?
A hearing test should be conducted to determine the type and severity of hearing loss. This test, includes an audiogram, which is a written record of your hearing levels at different pitches important to understanding speech sounds.
Over time, a series of these tests can track changes in your hearing. These tests:
- Measure reductions in hearing ability
- Identify conductive, sensorineural, or mixed hearing problems
- Monitor success at maintaining hearing
- Track changes in hearing due to advancing hearing loss
Management and Treatment
How is hearing loss treated?
Hearing loss treatment can involve surgical and non-surgical options. These include:
- Hearing aids, which can be used for a wide range of hearing losses.
- Cochlear implants for individuals who cannot benefit from hearing aids. Implants require a surgical procedure that provides direct electrical stimulation to the inner ear.
- Hearing assistive technology: devices used to help you hear better in day-to-day situations. Examples include TV listeners or telephone amplifiers.
- Audiological rehabilitation: listening and communication training and treatment to improve auditory performance
- Certain medicines
Even though you can purchase some personal sound amplification products without a prescription, it is best to see a physician to make sure no other medical issues are causing the hearing loss. Also, an audiologist will make sure the hearing devices fit properly and that there is follow-up care. In addition, the audiologist will determine if hearing aids are more appropriate for you given your communication needs and lifestyle.
How can hearing loss be prevented?
Noises are everywhere but you can protect yourself. Always have hearing protectors available for use. Earplugs are one example of a hearing protector. The earplugs fit into the outer ear canal. Earmuffs are another example. They fit over the entire outer ear. Make sure your hearing protectors are comfortable and clean. Also, stay consistent and use them every time you are around loud noises. There are special custom-made hearing protectors specifically designed for musicians or for those who enjoy loud concerts.
How does a person improve their communication even when using hearing devices?
If you have hearing loss and even wear hearing aids, let others know. Ask people to face you and speak slowly and clearly. Also, ask them to speak loudly, but to not shout. You can become more aware of facial expressions and gestures as well. Remember, communication involves at least two people – a talker who sends the message and a listener who receives the message.