Your odds of developing hearing loss at some time in your life are regretfully quite high, even more so as you get older. In the United States, 48 million people report some degree of hearing loss, including almost two-thirds of adults age 70 and older.
That’s the reason it’s vital to understand hearing loss, so that you can detect the signs and symptoms and take preventative actions to avoid injury to your hearing. In this article, we’re going to concentrate on the most widespread form of hearing loss: sensorineural hearing loss.
The three types of hearing loss
Generally speaking, there are three forms of hearing loss:
- Conductive hearing loss
- Sensorineural hearing loss
- Mixed hearing loss (a combination of conductive and sensorineural)
Conductive hearing loss is less common and is caused by some form of obstruction in the outer or middle ear. Common causes of conductive hearing loss include impacted earwax, ear infections, benign tumors, perforated eardrums, and genetic malformations of the ear.
This article will focus on sensorineural hearing loss as it is by far the most common.
Sensorineural hearing loss
This form of hearing loss is the most common and accounts for about 90 percent of all documented hearing loss. It is triggered by injury to the hair cells (nerves of hearing) of the inner ear or to the nerves connecting the inner ear to the brain.
With sensorineural hearing loss, sound waves enter through the external ear, hit the eardrum, and arrive at the inner ear (the cochlea and hair cells) as normal. However, due to damage to the hair cells (the very small nerve cells of hearing), the sound signal that is provided to the brain for processing is diminished.
This diminished signal is perceived as muffled or faint and usually has an effect on speech more than other kinds of lower-pitched sounds. Additionally, contrary to conductive hearing loss, sensorineural hearing loss tends to be permanent and cannot be remedied with medicine or surgery.
Causes and symptoms
Sensorineural hearing loss has varied possible causes, including:
- Genetic disorders
- Family history of hearing loss
- Meniere’s Disease or other disorders
- Head trauma
- Benign tumors
- Direct exposure to loud noise
- Aging (presbycusis)
The last two, exposure to loud noise and aging, constitute the most common causes of sensorineural hearing loss, which is honestly great news because it shows that most cases of hearing loss can be avoided (you can’t prevent aging, obviously, but you can limit the collective exposure to sound over the course of your lifetime).
To understand the signs and symptoms of sensorineural hearing loss, you should try to remember that damage to the nerve cells of hearing almost always unfolds very gradually. Therefore, the symptoms progress so slowly and gradually that it can be nearly impossible to notice.
A small amount of hearing loss every year will not be very detectable to you, but after a number of years it will be very apparent to your family and friends. So even though you might think everyone is mumbling, it might be that your hearing loss is catching up to you.
Here are some of the symptoms to watch for:
- Trouble understanding speech
- Difficulty following conversions, especially with more than one person
- Turning up the TV and radio volume to excessive levels
- Continuously asking others to repeat themselves
- Experiencing muffled sounds or ringing in the ears
- Feeling excessively exhausted at the end of the day
If you notice any of these symptoms, or have had people tell you that you might have hearing loss, it’s best to arrange a hearing test. Hearing tests are fast and pain-free, and the sooner you treat hearing loss the more hearing you’ll be able to conserve.
Prevention and treatment
Sensorineural hearing loss is largely preventable, which is great news because it is by far the most common type of hearing loss. Millions of cases of hearing loss in the US could be prevented by implementing some simple precautionary measures.
Any sound above 80 decibels (the volume of city traffic inside your car) can potentially affect your hearing with sustained exposure.
As the decibel level increases, the amount of time of safe exposure decreases. Which means at 100 decibels (the volume of a rock concert), any exposure over 15 minutes could harm your hearing.
Here are some tips on how you can prevent hearing loss:
- Use the 60/60 rule – when listening to a portable music player through headphones, listen for no more than 60 minutes at no more than 60 percent of the maximum volume. Additionally, think about buying noise-canceling headphones, as these will require lower volumes.
- Shield your ears at concerts – concerts can range from 100-120 decibels, significantly above the limit of safe volume (you could harm your hearing within 15 minutes). Minimize the volume with the use of foam earplugs or with musician’s plugs that preserve the quality of the music.
- Protect your ears in the workplace – if you work in a high-volume profession, check with your employer about its hearing protection program.
- Protect your hearing at home – a variety of household and leisure activities generate high-decibel sounds, including power saws, motorcycles, and firework displays. Make sure that you always use ear protection during extended exposure.
If you already have hearing loss, all hope is not lost. Hearing aids, while not able to completely restore your hearing, can significantly improve your life. Hearing aids can enhance your conversations and relationships and can forestall any further consequences of hearing loss.
If you suspect that you may have sensorineural hearing loss, book your quick and easy hearing test today!