Hearing loss is the third most common medical condition people experience today. Impacting over 48 million people (1 in 6), hearing loss is a pervasive health issue that is often permanent. Hearing loss reduces one’s capacity to hear and processes speech as well as sound. This takes a toll on communication which is central to how we navigate everyday life. Strained hearing and communication impacts relationships, work, social life, and health in significant ways. Fortunately, there are effective ways hearing loss is treated that alleviates symptoms and transforms hearing health.
Hearing loss can be congenital – present at birth – or acquired which means it developed after birth. Acquired hearing loss is much more common and can be caused by a range of factors including the following:
- Aging: aging is the most significant indicator of hearing loss. The risk of developing age related hearing loss, known as presbycusis, increases with age. Experts suggest that this increased risk can be caused by the cumulative impact of noise exposure on the auditory system, changes to the ear that can be experienced over time, or existing medical conditions that also disproportionately impact older adults and are correlated with hearing loss.
- Loud noise: one time or consistent exposure to loud noise can damage the sensory cells in the inner ear. These cells play a major role in how sound is processed – converting incoming soundwaves into electrical signals that get carried to the brain. Loud noise can desensitize and weaken these cells which reduces their capacity to perform their essential function. This results in the brain receiving less auditory information, producing chronic noise induced hearing loss.
- Head Injuries: the CDC estimates that 3 million head injuries occur every year. Head injuries can cause hearing loss in different ways. It can damage parts of the auditory system like the tiny bones in the middle ear as well as sensory cells in the inner ear. This damage impacts soundwaves being absorbed and processed effectively.
- Medical conditions: substantial research shows that a number of medical conditions can increase the risk of developing hearing loss. This includes diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and hypertension. These conditions affect blood flow and blood vessels throughout the body including the inner ear where sound is processed.
Other causes of acquired hearing loss include: inner ear disorders, certain medications (known as ototoxic medications), and chronic ear infections.
Hearing loss typically occurs gradually so symptoms can remain unnoticed for quite some time which contributes to delayed treatment. Symptoms make it tough to hear and engage in conversation which has significant effects on everyday life. Being able to recognize symptoms can better help you identify what you are experiencing. Common symptoms include:
- Tinnitus: a buzzing or ringing like noise in one or both ears.
- Sounds are slurred, muffled, or distorted.
- Difficulty hearing in environments with background noise.
- Responding with “huh” or “what” often.
- Increasing the volume on the TV or other electronic devices.
- Asking others to repeat themselves, speak louder, and/or slower.
- Being able to hear more clearly out of one ear compared to the other.
- Lip reading to help identify individual words.
- Pretending to hear, experiencing miscommunication.
- I Need to move to a quieter space to have a conversation.
These symptoms can be mild to profound, depending on the degree of hearing impairment you are experiencing. Symptoms make it difficult to navigate conversations so social withdrawal is a common way people cope with untreated hearing loss. This results in spending less time with others and engaged in activities, increasing the risk of depressive symptoms. Untreated hearing loss also increases other health risks including cognitive decline and accidental injuries.
If you recognize any of these symptoms, it is important to have your hearing health evaluated. The first step towards treatment is a hearing test which involves a noninvasive process that measures your hearing capacities in both ears. A hearing test identifies any hearing loss you may be experiencing and the degree of impairment in each ear. Once your hearing needs are established, your hearing healthcare provider is able to tailor treatment to meet your specific needs. The most common treatment for hearing loss is hearing aids, electronic devices designed to absorb and process speech as well as sound. Today’s hearing aids are more innovative and varied than ever before. Your hearing healthcare specialist will help you navigate your options, ensuring you choose a device that will optimally meet your hearing needs.
Contact us today to learn more about hearing loss and to schedule an appointment for a hearing consultation.