Your chances of acquiring hearing loss at some time in your life are unfortunately very high, even more so as you get older. In the US, 48 million individuals report some degree of hearing loss, including nearly two-thirds of adults age 70 and older.
That’s why it’s critical to understand hearing loss, so that you can detect the signs and symptoms and take preventive actions to avoid injury to your hearing. In this blog post, we’re going to concentrate on the most widespread form of hearing loss: sensorineural hearing loss.
The three forms of hearing loss
Generally speaking, there are three types of hearing loss:
- Conductive hearing loss
- Sensorineural hearing loss
- Mixed hearing loss (a mix of conductive and sensorineural)
Conductive hearing loss is less common and is triggered by some form of obstruction in the outer or middle ear. Frequent 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 type of hearing loss is the most prevalent and accounts for about 90 percent of all reported hearing loss. It is the result of 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 outer ear, strike the eardrum, and arrive at the inner ear (the cochlea and hair cells) as normal. However, on account of damage to the hair cells (the tiny nerve cells of hearing), the sound signal that is directed to the brain for processing is weakened.
This weakened signal is perceived as muffled or faint and normally affects speech more than other types of lower-pitched sounds. Additionally, unlike 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 several potential 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 frequent causes of sensorineural hearing loss, which is actually good news since it suggests that most cases of hearing loss can be avoided (you can’t avoid aging, of course, but you can regulate the cumulative exposure to sound over your lifetime).
To understand the symptoms of sensorineural hearing loss, you should remember that injury to the nerve cells of hearing almost always happens very slowly. Therefore, the symptoms advance so slowly that it can be nearly impossible to detect.
A small measure of hearing loss every year will not be very noticeable to you, but after many years it will be very apparent to your friends and family. So even though you may believe that everyone is mumbling, it might be that your hearing loss is catching up to you.
Here are some of the signs and symptoms to watch for:
- Trouble understanding speech
- Difficulty following conversions, especially with more than one person
- Turning up the television and radio volume to excessive levels
- Continuously asking others to repeat themselves
- Perceiving muffled sounds or ringing in the ears
- Becoming exceedingly tired at the end of the day
If you recognize any of these symptoms, or have had people tell you that you may have hearing loss, it’s a good idea to arrange a hearing test. Hearing tests are easy and pain-free, and the sooner you treat your hearing loss the more hearing you’ll be able to preserve.
Prevention and treatment
Sensorineural hearing loss is mostly preventable, which is great news because it is by far the most common form of hearing loss. Millions of instances of hearing loss in the United States could be avoided by adopting some simple precautionary measures.
Any sound above 80 decibels (the volume of city traffic inside your car) can potentially affect your hearing with chronic exposure.
As the decibel level increases, the amount of time of safe exposure decreases. As a result, at 100 decibels (the volume of a rock concert), any exposure over 15 minutes could harm your hearing.
Here are a few 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 max volume. Also think about buying noise-canceling headphones, as these will require lower volumes.
- Shield your ears at concerts – rock concerts can range from 100-120 decibels, significantly above the ceiling of safe volume (you could injure your hearing within 15 minutes). Limit the volume with the aid of foam earplugs or with musician’s plugs that maintain the quality of the music.
- Protect your ears at work – if you work in a loud occupation, talk with your employer about its hearing protection program.
- Safeguard your hearing at home – Several household and leisure activities produce high-decibel sounds, including power saws, motorcycles, and firework displays. Always use ear protection during prolonged exposure.
If you already have hearing loss, all 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 additional consequences of hearing loss.
If you suspect that you might have sensorineural hearing loss, schedule your quick and easy hearing test today!