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Hearing loss

hearing loss
Hearing loss is complicated and unique to each person.

Some people with hearing loss can hear only certain frequencies, while other people have no hearing at all. Others might only have hearing in one ear, or start with normal hearing that gets worse over time.

According to the World Health Organization, 466 million people in the world have hearing loss. That is nearly five percent of the population. And that number is expected to grow, as the World Health Organization estimates that by 2050 one in every 10 people will have hearing loss.

This calls for more people to begin protecting their hearing and being aware of signs of hearing loss.

 

What are signs of hearing loss?

How do you know if you have hearing loss? There are many symptoms that you may be able to notice throughout your daily life.

Children and women’s voices are hard to understand

High-frequency hearing loss is very common because it progresses with age. High frequencies are high pitched sounds, such as the voices of children and women. Other high pitch sounds include birds singing or the sound of the oven beeping.

You ask others to repeat themselves

If a conversation is hard to follow, especially in loud environments, this may be a sign of hearing loss. Background noise makes it very difficult to hear other voices when you have hearing loss. You may feel more inclined to withdraw from a conversation because it is too difficult to keep up.

You are turning up the volume on your electronics

If music, the TV or other electronics are hard to hear, you may be experiencing hearing loss.

You feel like your ears are clogged or filled

If you’ve been experiencing pain or an uncomfortable feeling in your ear, you may have a blockage from ear wax or fluid. It’s important to visit a doctor if you have any pain or unusual sensations with your ear.

 

Types of hearing loss

It’s important to know that there isn’t just one type of hearing loss. There are actually three types of hearing loss. The different types largely depend on if the issue lies in the outer, middle or inner ear.

Conductive hearing loss

 A conductive hearing loss occurs when sound cannot get through the outer and middle ear. This is often temporary hearing loss and may be fixed with medicine or surgery.

According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, causes of conductive hearing loss may include:

    • Ear infection
    • A poor Eustachian tube function
    • Fluid in your middle ear
    • A hole in the eardrum
    • Earwax
    • An object stuck in the ear
    • Outer ear development problems, deformed ear canal
    • Benign tumors

Sensorineural hearing loss

Sensorineural hearing loss occurs in the inner ear. This refers to issues in the inner ear, which leads to permanent hearing loss.

Sensorineural hearing loss may be caused by:

    • Genetics
    • Illnesses
    • Medicines
    • Aging
    • Head damage
    • A problem with inner ear development
    • Loud noise exposure

Mixed hearing loss

Mixed hearing loss is a combination of conductive hearing loss and sensorineural hearing loss. Someone may have both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss in one ear, as the conditions affect different parts of the ear.

 

What are the reasons for hearing loss?

scientists work to find cure for hearing loss

Hearing loss happens for a variety of reasons. Some people may never know what caused their hearing loss, but some of the most common reasons include natural aging, genetics, and illnesses.

Genetics

Hearing loss can be passed on genetically. Those who are born with lessened hearing have what is called a congenital hearing loss, which is often from genetics.

Many countries now have mandatory newborn hearing tests, which tests the hearing when a baby is born. If a baby fails this test, then they can undergo further tests to find out if the cause is genetic.

While genetic hearing loss does not have a cure, many parents are interested to know what caused their baby’s hearing loss. Genetic testing might find a definitive cause of hearing loss, but it also might not reveal anything. Not all hearing loss genes are known.

Read more: Stresses and rewards of genetic testing for hearing loss

Aging

As we grow older and our bodies begin to age, our hearing may weaken. Just as your eyes or knees would, hearing loss is a normal part of aging.

Approximately one in three people in the United States between the ages of 65 and 74 has hearing loss, according to the National Institutes of Health. That number increases to nearly half of those older than 75.

Read more: Why Treat Age-Related Hearing Loss?

Age-related hearing loss often affects both ears equally, and is often caused by natural changes in the inner ear as we age. It may also be enhanced by conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or years of being exposed to loud noises.

While there is no cure for age-related hearing loss, researchers at the University of Toronto say that confidence plays a large role in aging adult’s abilities to hear and remember things.

Hearing aids are also often suggested, as the technology helps people enjoy the sounds they are missing as they age.

Noise-induced hearing loss

Noise-induced hearing loss affects approximately 15 percent of Americans.

Some people may get noise-induced hearing loss from one very loud noise, such as an explosion, and others from prolonged exposure to loud noise over time, such as a musician in a rock band.

There are two main factors that affect the likelihood of noise damaging your hearing: the power of the sound and the length of exposure to it. The louder the sound, the shorter the amount of time it takes for damage to occur.

Read more: Who is at risk from noise-induced hearing loss?

To avoid noise-induced hearing loss, it is important to always use hearing protection when you’re in a loud environment.

Ear infections

A severe ear infection may cause damage to the ear which can cause hearing loss.

It’s important to always see a doctor when you or a loved one has a ear infection. Some ear infections may cause temporary hearing loss, but chronic ear infections can lead to more severe hearing loss over time.

Illnesses or diseases

Diabetes, Meniere’s disease, mumps and other illnesses and diseases can affect hearing in different ways. These conditions may result in permanent or fluctuating hearing loss. Illnesses that result in high fever, such as meningitis, may cause hearing loss by damaging the cochlea.

Always consult with your doctor if you find an illness is affecting your ability to hear.

Ototoxic medications

A side effect of many ototoxic medications is hearing loss or tinnitus. These medications are used for serious diseases, cancer, and infections.

The University of Michigan has a list of common medicines that may cause hearing loss. This includes:

    • Aspirin, in large doses (8 to 12 pills a day)
    • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and naproxen.
    • Certain antibiotics, especially aminoglycosides (such as gentamicin, streptomycin, and neomycin). Hearing-related side effects from these antibiotics are most common in people who have kidney disease or who already have ear or hearing problems.
    • Loop diuretics used to treat high blood pressure and heart failure, such as furosemide (Lasix) or bumetanide.
    • Medicines used to treat cancer, including cyclophosphamide, cisplatin, and bleomycin.

Taking ototoxic medicine is an important decision that should be made with your doctor. Some medications that damage your hearing could also save your life.

Nerve damage

Damage to the auditory nerve can cause hearing loss and is usually a result of aging, noise exposure, medications, trauma, or genetics. The auditory nerve runs from the ear to the brain.

Auditory nerve damage cannot be repaired by surgery, but for people with severe hearing loss, a cochlear implant may be an option to enhance their hearing. Cochlear implants bypass the damaged part of the auditory system to directly stimulate the auditory nerve.

 

Degree of hearing loss

The degree of hearing loss varies depending on the damage of hair cells or the auditory nerve. The degree of hearing loss is measured by decibels, or dB, which describes the loudness of a sound. Hearing loss ranges from mild to profound.

Mild Hearing Loss

Mild hearing loss ranges from 26 to 40 dB.

A person with mild hearing loss has difficulties understanding 25 to 40 percent of all acoustic speech signals. These include sounds like the birds singing, the sound of leaves blowing across the sidewalk, and some high-pitch verbal signals.

Moderate Hearing Loss

Moderate hearing loss ranges from 41 to 55 dB. Moderately severe ranges from 56to 70 dB.

Someone with moderate hearing loss may find it very difficult to understand speech when there is a lot of background noise, such as at a restaurant.

Severe Hearing Loss

Severe hearing loss ranges from 71 to 90 dB.

Conversations have to be conducted loudly for someone with severe hearing loss who is not using hearing technology. Group conversations require a lot of effort for them to be able to hear.

Profound Hearing Loss

Profound hearing loss is anything about 91 dB. Someone with profound hearing loss usually cannot hear any speech. Without a hearing aid, communication is no longer possible even with intense effort.

 

Hearing loss in one ear

Hearing loss in one ear, also known as unilateral hearing loss, is when hearing is lost in one ear, but is normal in the other ear. Single-sided hearing loss, often occurs for the same reasons as bilateral hearing loss.

Read more: What is single-sided hearing?

 

Do I have hearing loss?

Do you think you may have any of the signs of hearing loss?

If so, it is best to visit an audiologist to test your hearing and identify hearing solutions that will work well for you. You can find an audiologist by locating one here.

You can also test your hearing, using this free online hearing test.

 

Hearing loss treatment

While there is no cure for hearing loss, there are various treatments.

The most common treatment is to wear hearing aids or cochlear implants. Hearing aids and cochlear implants are technologies that amplify and process sound to increase sound clarity and volume.

Hearing aids can be a solution for mild to profound hearing loss. Cochlear implants are a solution for profound hearing loss and require a surgical procedure. Once you visit an audiologist, they can help you choose the right solution for you.

Those with hearing loss wear their hearing aids and cochlear implants with pride. Although it is a major life adjustment, many people with hearing loss don’t see it as a loss, but rather a gain in life. Living with hearing loss provides a unique perspective on life.

Read more: How to live confidently with hearing loss

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The HearingLikeMe editorial team includes Jill von Bueren, Kirsten Brackett and Lisa Goldstein.
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The HearingLikeMe editorial team includes Jill von Bueren, Kirsten Brackett and Lisa Goldstein.