If you experience hearing loss, you are not alone. Almost 50 million Americans, from all ages, have some form of hearing loss. In people over 65, about one-in-three experiences hearing loss.
Unfortunately, most cases go untreated, which can negatively affect relationships, work performance and may lead to other medical issues including depression and cognitive decline.
If you aren’t sure if you have hearing loss, ask yourself a few simple questions.
Do people seem to mumble or speak in a softer voice more than they used to?
Do you feel tired or irritable after a long conversation?
Do you tend to miss key words in a sentence?
Do you frequently need to ask people to repeat themselves?
Do you have difficulty understanding the conversation in a crowded room?
Do you often turn the volume up on the TV or radio?
Does background noise bother you?
Is it sometimes hard to hear the conversation on the telephone?
Do you sometimes not hear the doorbell or telephone ring?
Are your family or friends complaining about your hearing?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you should consider getting your hearing tested, as you may have one of the primary kinds of hearing loss described below.
SENSORINEURAL HEARING LOSS
Hearing loss that originates in the inner ear is referred to as sensorineural hearing loss. About 90% of hearing losses are sensorineural, most commonly caused by damage to the inner hair cells.
Sensorineural hearing loss often occurs due to genetic factors such as family inheritance, excessive noise exposure, or changes in the inner ear due to the natural aging process. Other causes of sensorineural hearing loss can include medications, tumors, infections, diabetes, kidney disease, or cardiovascular disease. In many cases, the cause is unknown.
A sensorineural hearing loss can be of any degree, from very mild to profound, and often includes one or more of the following symptoms.
Symptoms Sensorineural hearing loss causes a reduction in sound quality. A person suffering from this type of loss may
Hear things at a normal volume, but the sounds seem distorted or muffled.
Have trouble understanding conversations with more than two people.
Have a problem hearing conversations in noisy areas and often ask people to speak more clearly.
This type of hearing loss also causes a person to enjoy music less, as music may start to sound harsh or fuzzy. Less frequent symptoms may include dizziness or tinnitus (ringing in the ears).
CONDUCTIVE HEARING LOSS
Conductive hearing loss accounts for about 10% of all hearing loss. It occurs when the conduction of sound through the outer ear or middle ear is disrupted. Some examples include excessive earwax in the ear canal, a hole in the eardrum, or a middle ear infection with fluid buildup behind the eardrum.
Conductive hearing loss can often be treated medically, and in many cases can be cured entirely. Symptoms range from mild to moderate in severity and often include one or more of the following symptoms.
Symptoms Conductive hearing loss causes a reduction in sound volume, making things sound quieter. A person suffering from this type of loss may
Hear faint noises and often ask people to speak louder.
Turn up the volume on the television in order to hear, making it too loud for others.
Have trouble hearing someone over the telephone.
People with conductive hearing loss often have a visible infection in the ear or a buildup of wax in the ear canal. They may also have ear pain, pressure in the ears, or ear drainage.
MIXED HEARING LOSS
Sound can be blocked in multiple places along the path to the brain. When a hearing loss occurs from conditions in the inner ear as well as the outer or middle ear, it is called a mixed hearing loss because it is a combination of conductive and sensorineural components.
An example of a mixed hearing loss may be someone with inner ear hair cell damage due to noise damage who at the same time has an ear infection, stopping the eardrum from vibrating normally.
The conductive portion of a mixed hearing loss can often be medically treated, but even after successful treatment, there will still be an underlying sensorineural hearing loss that is permanent and may warrant a hearing aid depending on the level of severity.
If you hear any ringing or buzzing in your ears, you may suffer from tinnitus.