What is hearing loss?
Hearing loss is defined as the partial or complete inability to hear. It is a condition in which the ears’ ability to detect sound and the brain’s ability to interpret sounds are impeded.
Hearing loss may affect anyone, regardless of age, though it is more common in older adults. Hearing loss may be caused by any number of factors, such as exposure to noise, age, disease, or genetic inheritance.
Prevalence of hearing loss
In the United States, hearing loss is the third most common medical condition, trailing behind heart disease and diabetes. Hearing loss affects 20% of the population in the US, or approximately 48 million people.
Among older Americans, hearing loss becomes more common, with one in three people over the age of 65 experiencing some degree of hearing loss. For people age 75 or older, 50% are affected by some degree of hearing loss.
In the workforce, approximately 60% of people experience some degree of hearing loss. The US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration notes that occupationally-related hearing loss has been a major concern in the last 25 years. Approximately 60% of service men and women returning from combat zones report cases of hearing loss and tinnitus, due to exposure to noise.
Hearing loss also affects children. Approximately between one to six newborns out of 1,000 have congenital hearing loss identified at birth. Researchers estimate that 15% of US children have low-frequency or high-frequency hearing loss in one or both ears.
Symptoms of hearing loss
Because hearing is an invisible sense, it may be difficult to identify the appearance of hearing loss.
Common signs of hearing loss include:
- Asking people to repeat themselves.
- Having trouble hearing in groups.
- Thinking that others mumble during conversation.
- Failing to hear someone if they speak to you from behind.
- Turning up the volume on your TV or radio.
- Having difficulty communicating on the phone.
- Avoiding noisy parties and restaurants.
- Cutting out activities from your schedule that you used to enjoy.
If you answer yes to the following questions, you may be experiencing a hearing loss:
- Are you embarrassed to talk openly about not being able to hear?
- Are you cutting out activities that you used to love but have become painful because you cannot join in fully anymore?
- At work are you afraid to reveal your hearing loss in case it jeopardizes your job and your supervisor and coworkers may see you as less competent?
- Are you bluffing when out with friends in noisy restaurants?
- Are you feeling cut off from your young children because you cannot hear their high-pitched voices?
- Are family holidays a strain because so many people are talking at once?
(Source: The Hearing Loss Association of America)
For many people with untreated hearing loss, the common complaint is: “I can hear, but I can’t understand.” Because hearing loss affects how we process sound, people tend to misconstrue similar sounds or misunderstand phrasing. Over time, people with hearing loss may avoid conversations and social interactions altogether, as communication becomes increasingly difficult. For this reason, it is important to seek treatment (or encourage a loved one to seek treatment) as soon as these signs of hearing loss are apparent.
Types of hearing loss
There are three main types of hearing loss: conductive, sensorineural, and mixed.
Sensorineural hearing loss interferes with the inner ear’s ability to translate sound vibrations into neural signals that are received by the brain as sound. Commonly this is due to the death of inner ear hair cells, which are responsible for this process. Sensorineural hearing loss is caused by exposure to loud noise; aging (presbycusis); head trauma; hereditary hearing loss; Meniere’s disease; malformation of the inner ear; or tumor.
Conductive hearing loss interferes with the outer and middle ear’s abilities to conduct sound. It is caused by problems with the ear canal, ear drum, middle ear, and middle ear bones (malleus, incus, and stapes); ear infection; malformation of outer or middle ear structures; perforated eardrum; poor Eustachian tube function; tumors; or impacted earwax.
Mixed hearing loss is a combination of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss, affecting different parts of the ear.
Benefits of treating hearing loss
It takes an average of seven years from the time a person first recognizes signs of hearing loss until the time they decide to seek treatment. Hearing loss is identified with a series of simple, noninvasive hearing tests.
Identifying and treating hearing loss as soon as it appears bring many benefits to overall health and well-being. Hearing loss is most commonly treated with the prescription of hearing aids, which amplify sound, provide clear sound signals, and assist the brain in the process of recognizing sounds.
Studies have found that treating hearing loss with hearing aids supports cognitive ability (thus reducing a risk of dementia), improves safety and security, ensures higher earning power, and maintains strong relationships with friends and loved ones, thus reducing the risk of social isolation, anxiety, and depression.
The Next Step
If you believe that you, or someone you love, are experiencing a hearing loss, contact us at Glendora to schedule a consultation and hearing exam.