Hearing Loss Overview

For those with hearing loss, hearing the words of other people may be easy, but understanding them can be difficult.

This distinction is important to point out when we talk more broadly about hearing loss. 

Hearing loss usually happens very slowly over a long period, so you can easily miss it. And it is more widespread than you might think. The latest available numbers indicate that over 10 percent of the U.S. population is currently dealing with hearing problems. That is approximately 31 million people! And as the Baby Boomer generation reaches retirement age, that number will increase exponentially.

Hearing Loss and Dementia

Types of Hearing Loss

Hearing loss means you can't hear sounds as you used to because of a defect inside the ear. There are three major types of hearing loss:

  • Conductive hearing loss refers to the transmission of sound from the outside to your inner ear being blocked by something. It may be caused by earwax, or by a fluid build-up due to an ear infection or other illness. This type of hearing loss can be treated in some circumstances.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss comes from an issue within the inner ear, which means  sound signals aren’t able to be transmitted to the brain to be processed. The most common cause is hearing loss due to age, or a response to loud noises. This is the most common type of hearing loss, and, sadly, it is irreversible.
  • Mixed hearing loss is a mixture of these two. This is generally treated by treating the conductive hearing loss first and then using a hearing aid to treat the sensorineural hearing loss.

Signs of Hearing Loss

Here are some definitive signs of hearing loss to watch out for. 

Ask yourself: 

  • Are you watching the television at a volume louder than your family members would like?
  • Do you have trouble following conversations in public places?
  • Is it difficult to speak on the phone?
  • Do you often ask other people to repeat what they say?
  • Do your friends think that you aren't listening to them?
  • Are you irritated at how much everyone is mumbling around you?

If you say yes to more than a few of these questions, there is a chance you may have a hearing loss. 

Causes of Hearing Loss

There are two principal causes of hearing loss – age and excessive noise exposure.

Age (Presbycusis)

Age-related hearing loss, known as presbycusis, occurs gradually, usually in both ears. It occurs partly due to genetic factors and partly on long-term exposure to noise. Many medical conditions such as high blood pressure, thyroid problems, and diabetes may worsen the decline, along with drugs such as chemotherapy drugs and some antibiotics.

Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL)

Long-term hearing loss caused by noise occurs when a person has been subjected over a long period to loud noise. Long-term NIHL frequently occurs in a noisy environment at work. NIHL is prevalent among workers in the manufacturing, music, mining, transportation, railroad, and construction industries. 

But we don’t just encounter damaging noises at work. Recreational activities such as snowmobiling, mowing the lawn, woodworking, and even blow drying hair can also cause hearing loss if hearing protection isn't used. 

Other causes of hearing loss include: 
  • Genetics: Genetic factors can play a role in the development and healthy development of inner ear structures. Inherited factors might lead to hearing loss in children and have a direct impact on an individual's likelihood of getting hearing loss later in life. 
  • Infections: Viral infections can lead to hearing loss in infants and adults, leading to a sudden loss of hearing.
  • Medicine: Chemical disruptions can affect the composition of your inner ear fluid or alter its pressure or volume. This can lead to hearing loss in rare circumstances. 

How to Treat Hearing Loss

Treatment for a hearing issue depends on the cause and how serious it is, but unless you're deaf or have a significant hearing loss, hearing aids are the preferred treatment option.

Although this is the best way to treat hearing loss, very few people use hearing aids. Fewer than 16 percent of the 28.8 million Americans aged 20 to 69 who might benefit from wearing hearing aids have ever used them. Fewer than 30 percent of older adults have ever used them.

Untreated hearing loss has been linked with disorders as varied as dementia, depression, and an increased risk of falls. Treating your hearing loss in the right way can reduce the risk of these disorders, as well as preserving your connections with friends, family, and loved ones.

If you are worried that you may have hearing loss, we can help. Contact us for a consultation today!

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