Hearing loss is one of the most common chronic health conditions people experience today. It affects over 48 million people in the United States and is the third most pervasive health issue after heart disease and arthritis.
A wide range of factors that can cause hearing loss, including certain medical conditions, aging, ear wax, or damage to the inner ear, can really disrupt your daily life. That's why we believe it is important to practice preventative measures that can significantly reduce your risk of developing hearing loss.
An Overview of Hearing Loss
Hearing loss is a significant health concern in the United States. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD):
- 1 in 3 adults, ages 65-74, have hearing loss
- 1 in 2 adults, ages 75 and older, have disabling hearing loss
- 16% of adults, ages 18 and older, report some trouble hearing
The NIDCD also estimates that only one-third of people who could benefit from treatment receive treatment for their hearing loss. Impairment to hearing typically happens gradually, so it can take time for people to notice changes that contribute to the delay in seeking treatment. Understanding the causes of hearing loss and the most common symptoms can help you intervene early, protecting your hearing health from further impairment.
How Hearing Works
Understanding how we hear is helpful to understanding how hearing can be impaired. The auditory system is the sensory system for hearing; it includes the brain and ears, which work together to absorb and process sound. This system works by:
- Outer ear: The outer cartilage absorbs sound from the environment, which travels through the ear canal and reaches the eardrum.
- Middle ear: Movement of the eardrum activates the ossicles - three connected bones that help propel soundwaves further into the inner ear.
- Inner ear: The fluid and hair cells in the cochlea convert these soundwaves into electrical signals.
These signals are carried to the brain via the auditory nerve. The brain is then able to further analyze and assign meaning to these signals, which allows us to understand what we hear. Depending on the hearing loss, impairment can happen due to damage that occurs to one of these critical areas.
Types & Causes of Hearing Loss
There are three types of hearing loss that can be caused by different factors and inform the treatment option that would be most effective.
- Sensorineural: This is the most common type of hearing loss which occurs when the hair cells in the inner ear are damaged or lose sensitivity, preventing them from translating incoming sound waves for the brain to process. Common causes of sensorineural hearing loss include aging, exposure to loud noise, and existing medical conditions (hypertension, heart disease, diabetes).
- Conductive: This type of hearing loss happens in the outer or middle ear. Conductive hearing loss is caused by physical blockages that prevent sound from traveling to the inner ear. Obstructions can include a buildup of earwax, chronic ear infections, growths, and damage from a foreign object. This type of hearing loss is usually temporary and can be corrected through medications or surgery.
Mixed: Mixed hearing loss combines sensorineural and conductive hearing loss.
Common Hearing Loss Symptoms
Impaired hearing reduces an individual’s capacity to detect and process sound. This creates various symptoms that can be experienced mildly to profoundly. Common symptoms include:
- Tinnitus: a buzzing or ringing like noise in the ears
- Sounds are distorted (muffled or slurred)
- Turning up the volume on electronic devices like the television or your phone
- Frequently asking others to repeat something they’ve said or to speak louder
- Needing to move to a space that is quieter so you can hear more clearly
- Often missing words during a conversation or experiencing difficulty following along
- Feeling fatigued after social interactions
These symptoms put a strain on your hearing and can take a toll on all aspects of life. Because conversations can become too cumbersome, people with untreated hearing loss often avoid social interaction. Social withdrawal is also a significant symptom of hearing loss which impacts relationships and mental health.
If you recognize any of these symptoms, it is crucial to have your hearing assessed as soon as you can. Contact us today to learn more and schedule your appointment for a hearing consultation appointment!