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Hearing Loss: Causes and Treatments

Well, it’s a new decade and we’re living in the Age of Digital – digital computers, cell phones, PDAs, digital downloads, uploads and yes, today digital hearing aids are the norm. These little machines are smart, stylish, comfortable and convenient. Unfortunately, many of us recognize that we don’t hear as well as we did in years past but accept hearing loss as inevitable.

It’s not. In fact, by making a few lifestyle changes and getting fitted with a pair of today’s high-tech hearing aids, you can live the life you used to live and hear the richness of life the way it was meant to be heard.

Did you make a New Year’s resolution to finally have your hearing evaluated by a professional? If so, good for you. Now all you have to do is do it. And it won’t hurt a bit.

Causes of Hearing Loss

"What caused my hearing loss" is usually the first question we ask when we notice that the person on the other end of the telephone line sounds a little softer than usual. Well, there are lots of reasons people lose some of their ability to hear.

Growing older is, indeed, one of the most common reasons behind hearing loss. The hearing mechanism wears out after years of use just as other parts of our body do. Age related hearing loss, also known as presbycusis, is very common. In fact according to the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, 1 in 3 Americans over the age of 65 have some degree of hearing loss. So if you fall in that age group, know you are not alone.

Exposure to loud noise is often a contributing factor to hearing loss and, you bet, it’s a noisy world – even if you live out in the quiet countryside. Loud noise, over a long period of time, takes its toll on our ability to hear.

It could be a noisy workplace, the constant drumbeat produced by MP3 players and other digital music players or the constant drone of traffic right outside the window.

Noise induced hearing loss, the only type of hearing loss is fully preventable, is on the rise and is seen in younger generations.

There are many ways to prevent noise induced hearing loss such as turning down the volume and wearing hearing protection while around loud noise such as power tools and concerts. If you are exposed to workplace noise, talk with your employer about providing you hearing protection. It’s the right thing for them to do.

Disease is another common cause of hearing loss. Just think about how you hear when you have a head cold. Everything sounds a bit clogged up, right? Sure, but the hearing loss comes back once that pesky cold goes away.

People with diabetes are more susceptible to hearing loss, as well as people with cardiovascular conditions or heart disease. Poor circulation of blood and oxygen can affect nearly every part of our bodies, including our inner ears which allow us to hear.

Medications are also responsible for hearing loss as an unwanted side effect. Certain drugs used to treat cancer, for example, can cause hearing loss. These drugs are called ototoxic drugs and are toxic to our ears given the right dose.

Always read the warning labels on any meds you buy over the counter and ask your doctor about the side effects of any prescription medications you take. You may be curing one disease while potentially damaging your hearing as a result.

Another issue with medication is the adverse effects when combined with other medications. Some medications alone are not ototoxic; however, when taken at the same time with another drug they can become ototoxic. Ensure you always manage your prescriptions at one pharmacy so the pharmacist can warn you on any potential side effects of multiple prescriptions. And notify ALL your doctors about ALL of your prescriptions – especially ones prescribed by a different physician.

Trauma to the head or hearing mechanism is yet another reason folks lose their hearing. A serious head injury, for example, can lead to hearing loss. Combat troops who are exposed to loud, unexpected explosions also experience hearing loss. In fact, medics in war zones now carry medications that are administered to soldiers who are exposed to loud, concussive explosions. The sooner these meds are given after exposure to an explosion, the more likely hearing returns to the normal range, though there’s no hard and fast rule.

However, we do know that damage to the hearing centers of the brain and damage to the delicate hearing mechanism that converts sound waves to electrical impulses lead to hearing loss – the permanent kind.

And finally lifestyle can contribute to hearing loss. Smoking, lack of exercise and a diet lacking substantial nutrients can all contribute to hearing loss. Healthy living equals healthy hearing.

What Should I do When I Suspect Hearing Loss?

hearing test results for hearing loss
Suspect hearing loss? Time for a hearing test

See a hearing professional ASAP.

Hearing occurs 24/7. It never stops, even when we sleep. That’s the way nature intended humans to hear. There’s no natural “shut-off” switch. And because we hear throughout the day and even as we sleep, hearing loss may be very gradual – so gradual that you don’t notice it until it’s gone, or at least slipping away.

See an audiologist or hearing aid practitioner – an expert in hearing, hearing loss and hearing solutions. These highly trained and certified professionals will perform a top-down hearing evaluation to determine the scope and degree of hearing loss you have. If they suspect an underlying medical condition contributing to your hearing loss, they will refer you to yoru family physician or an Otolaryngologist - a physician specialing in ears and hearing.

Then, working with you, the patient, these hearing professionals will offer a number of solutions from which to pick. In most cases, a pair of hearing aids will get you back in the game and keep you in play longer. But, today’s hearing aids ain’t what they used to be. No way. Today’s hearing aids come in a range of styles, types, colors and profiles, one of which is sure to suit your needs and preferences.

Purchasing Hearing Aids

Your hearing professional will discuss with you the hearing test results and identify just how much hearing you’ve lost and in what sound frequencies that hearing loss has occurred. For example, it’s common for people to experience hearing loss in the upper frequency ranges when the cause is general aging, making it difficult (if not impossible) to hear the high notes, the birds twittering in the trees and even the sound of children’s voices.

There are many considerations to consider when purchasing hearing aids. Hearing aid manufacturers are making a wide range of solutions to choose from and range from basic/entry level hearing aids to advanced state-of-art hearing aids with all the bells and whistles.

It is important to work one-on-one with a hearing professional to select the best hearing aids for you, your hearing loss and budget. And although cost is typically a high priority, try not to make it your number one consideration. After all, you can’t put a price tag on improving your hearing so cost, while certainly a consideration, shouldn’t be tops on your list when weighing the solutions to address hearing loss.

Types of Hearing Aids

Consumers have many hearing aid options today, one being type and today’s hearing aids are available in four basic types:

  • custom hearing aids which range in size from the invisible completely-in-the-canal (CIC) to a full shell that fills up the outer ear entirely
  • receiver-in the-canal (RIC) hearing aids
  • open-fit behind-the ear (BTE) hearing aids; and
  • traditional BTE hearing aids
unitron hearing aids types
A wide range of hearing aid types available Photo courtesy Unitron

Select the right hearing aid type for you and more importantly your hearing loss. For example, some people don’t want to advertise hearing loss so they opt for the CIC type – a small custom fit hearing aid that slips completely into the ear canal, invisible to all. Low profile and complete discretion.

However, some hearing aid users don’t like the stuffy feeling CICs create so they cross that type off the list and not to mention CIC hearing aids are typically ideal for more mild hearing losses.

For those who want a more natural fit and feel, they opt for open-fit BTEs and RIC hearing aids. Both of these types allow for an “open” fit, meaning the ear canal is not occluded. This results in a comfortable and more natural feeling hearing aid in regards to both sound and physical feel.

Open-fit BTEs and RIC hearing aids are also cosmetically appealing for those concerned about the cosmetics of wearing hearing aids.

Traditional BTEs are the hearing aids we’re all most familiar with. These sit nestled behind the outer ear lobe, hidden by the ear. Thank you to miniaturization of digital hearing aid parts and new innovative designs, today’s BTEs are not the type grandpa used to wear. They are sleek and modern looking and actual provide a fairly low profile fit.

Many of today’s hearing aids are winning design awards right and left. In the world of electronics and gadgets they are considered appealing and innovative. No longer are they beige and boring, they’re fashion statements that also improve your hearing. That’s sweet.

Discuss with your hearing pro which hearing aid type works best for you. Together, your audiologist or hearing aid dispenser will develop a strategy that suits your hearing needs and personal preferences.

Make it a New Year for Your Ears

It’s the beginning of a new decade, the beginning of a new year and the beginning of new ears for you. Live life the way you used to. Don’t accept hearing loss as inevitable. It’s not.

And don’t think of hearing loss and hearing aids as an “I’m old thing”, they aren’t. In fact, if you want to look old keep saying “huh” and “what” all the time. Now that’s old.

With today’s advanced digital hearing aids, you won’t be disappointed. The design and cosmetic appeal coupled with outstanding sound quality and automated convenience are helping those with hearing loss hear the sweet sounds they have been missing.

So you’re just a telephone call away from a better quality of life. In fact, you’ll wonder why you didn’t make that appointment earlier. There’s a whole world of sound. Find a hearing professional near you today.

Enjoy it to the fullest in the upcoming decade. You won’t regret it. Guaranteed.

Happy New Years! And most importantly, Happy New “Ears” for you in 2010!

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