Hearing Loss Overview

All About Hearing Loss

Hearing loss is a common medical condition that can be caused by noise exposure, aging, or disease. It may also be hereditary. People with hearing loss may find it hard to converse with friends and family. They may also have trouble responding to warnings, and hearing alerts and alarms.

Approximately one in three people between the ages of 65 and 74 has hearing loss, and nearly half of those older than 75 has difficulty hearing. When someone’s hearing is compromised, it may lead to depression and they may withdraw from others because they feel frustrated or embarrassed about not understanding what is being said.  

When hearing problems are ignored or untreated, they can get worse.  For this reason, it is imperative to see an audiologist if you suspect that you have a hearing loss.  Often you may not notice that you are living with hearing loss, as it is an invisible condition that develops gradually. Many people find ways to make accommodations for their changing hearing abilities, such as asking people to repeat themselves or turning up the volume. For this reason, it is important to have an annual hearing test in order to monitor your hearing abilities.

Common signs of hearing loss include:

  • Trouble hearing over the telephone
  • Difficulty following conversations when two or more people are talking
  • Asking people to repeat what they are saying
  • Increasing the TV volume so loud that others complain
  • Having problems hearing because of background noise
  • Believing that others seem to mumble
  • Difficulty understanding people with higher-pitched voices
signs of hearing loss

Causes of Hearing Loss

  • Exposure to loud noise is one of the most common causes of hearing loss. Noise from industrial machines or loud music can damage the inner ear, resulting in permanent hearing loss.
  • Earwax or fluid buildup can block sounds that are carried from the eardrum to the inner ear.
  • A punctured eardrum can also cause hearing loss. The eardrum can be damaged by infection, pressure, or putting objects in the ear, including cotton-tipped swabs.
  • Health conditions common in older people, such as diabetesor high blood pressure, can contribute to hearing loss. Viruses, a heart condition, stroke, brain injury, or a tumor may also affect your hearing.
  • Hearing loss can also result from taking certain medications. “Ototoxic” medications damage the inner ear, sometimes permanently. Some ototoxic drugs include medicines used to treat serious infections, cancer, and heart disease. Some antibiotics are ototoxic. Even aspirin at some dosages can cause problems. Check with your doctor if you notice a problem while taking a medication.
causes of hearing loss

Types of Hearing Loss

Hearing loss comes in many forms. It can range from a mild loss, in which a person misses certain high-pitched sounds, to a total loss of the auditory range. There are two general categories of hearing loss:

Sudden Hearing Loss

Sudden sensorineural hearing loss, or sudden deafness, is a rapid loss of hearing. It can happen to a person all at once or over a period of up to 3 days. It should be considered a medical emergency. If you or someone you know experiences sudden sensorineural hearing loss, visit a doctor immediately.

Presbycusis

Presbycusis, or age-related hearing loss, comes on gradually as a person gets older. It seems to be hereditary and may occur because of changes in the inner ear and auditory nerve. Presbycusis may make it hard for a person to tolerate loud sounds or to hear what others are saying.

Age-related hearing loss usually occurs in both ears, affecting them equally. The loss is gradual, so someone with presbycusis may not realize that he or she has lost some of his or her ability to hear.

Tinnitus

Tinnitus is typically described as ringing in the ears, but it also can sound like roaring, or any static sound. It can come and go. Tinnitus can accompany any type of hearing loss and can be a sign of other health problems, such as high blood pressure, allergies, or as a side effect of medications.

Treating Hearing Loss

Treating hearing loss begins with a comprehensive hearing test with an audiologist. The most common form of treatment is the prescription of hearing aids. There is a diverse range of hearing aid technology, so it is important to see an audiologist to ensure that you are fitted with devices that are best suited to your particular hearing needs.
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