Hearing loss is one of the biggest health concerns in the U.S. It is the third most commonly reported physical condition, following arthritis and heart disease. It affects roughly 20 percent of the American population and can strike people of all ages.
The most common causes of hearing loss are noise exposure and aging.
What Are the Symptoms of Hearing Loss?
Hearing loss is a progressive condition that worsens over time and we may compensate for the loss over time. Symptoms may appear so gradually; you may be unaware that you are struggling to hear. Often, a family member or friend will be the first to notice a hearing problem. Even when hearing loss is suspected, it takes an average of seven years for a person to seek medical treatment.
Knowing the signs of hearing loss is helpful so you take action. The following might indicate you have a hearing loss:
- Frequently asking people to repeat themselves
- Feeling like speaker’s mumble
- Experiencing difficulty hearing when there is background noise (i.e. restaurants)
- Turning up the volume on the television or radio
Treatment is most effective when started early. If you are concerned about your hearing, please call us to schedule an evaluation.
How Is Hearing Loss Diagnosed?
In our ENT practice, your physician will review your medical history, discuss your symptoms, and give you a physical examination. You will also have a comprehensive hearing test by a licensed Hillcrest clinician. Your individualized treatment plan will be developed and discussed with you based on these clinical evaluations.
What Are the Types of Hearing Loss?
Treatment will depend on your type and degree of hearing loss. Conductive hearing loss occurs when there are problems in the outer ear, ear canal, eardrum or middle ear. It can be caused by any of the following:
- Ear infection
- Fluid in the ears
- Malformation or abnormalities of the outer or middle ear
- Impacted earwax
- Foreign object in the ear
- Perforated eardrum
- Benign tumors
Conductive hearing loss is often correctable with surgery, medications (typically antibiotics) and/or hearing aids.
Sensorineural hearing loss involves a problem with the inner ear and is frequently referred to as “nerve deafness.” It may be caused by any of these:
- Noise exposure
- Head trauma
- Aging (presbycusis)
- Viral disease
- Autoimmune ear disease
- Meniere’s disease
- Malformation or abnormality of the inner ear
Sensorineural hearing loss can sometimes be treated with medications (corticosteroids) or surgery. More likely, hearing aids will be required.
Mixed hearing loss is a combination of both types. Treatment might involve a combination of medication, surgery and/or hearing aids.
In addition to the different types of hearing loss, it is important to consider the extent to which a patient is experiencing symptoms. Hearing loss is further categorized as being either monaural (one ear) or binaural (both ears).
Unilateral hearing loss (sometimes referred to as single-sided deafness) affects one ear only, while bilateral hearing loss affects both ears.
Patients with unilateral hearing loss have normal hearing in one ear and impaired hearing in the other; they have difficulty hearing on one side and localizing sound. This type of hearing loss is usually associated with conductive causes. Individuals with bilateral hearing loss have impaired hearing in both ears. The condition is most often treated with hearing aids (two are more effective than one) or cochlear implants.
Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
Noise-induced hearing loss is the most common type experienced by younger individuals. It can be caused by exposure to a single loud sound, such as a gunshot or explosion, or by continuous exposure to loud noise over a period of time.
When sounds exceed 85 decibels (dB) they are considered hazardous to your hearing health. Continuous exposure to volume levels that high causes permanent damage to the hair cells in your ears.
Activities that put people at risk for noise-induced hearing loss include hunting, riding a motorcycle, listening to music at high volumes, playing in a band and attending rock concerts. An estimated 15 percent of Americans aged 20 to 69 have hearing loss that may have been caused by noise exposure. This type of hearing loss can be prevented by wearing earplugs and protective devices.