Hearing loss can affect anyone at any age. In fact, the American Speech-Hearing-Language Association estimates that at least 28 million Americans are suffering from some degree of hearing loss.
The good news is that there are numerous solutions to help a person enjoy a higher quality of life with their hearing loss. By further investigating the symptoms, causes, tests, treatments and prevention of hearing loss, it is easier to understand how it impacts individuals differently.
Symptoms of hearing loss
Temporary hearing loss is often caused by exposure to loud noises, whether it be from a concert or job-related. Symptoms of hearing loss include: difficulty understanding everyday conversations, a reduced ability to hear other noises around you and usually ringing in the ears.Depending on the degree or severity of the hearing loss, symptoms can range from difficulty understanding a word to problems communicating with others. Because there are different types of hearing loss, there also are different symptoms present.
Unlike temporary hearing loss, permanent hearing loss cannot be reversed and usually involves damages to the auditory nerves. Symptoms of permanent hearing loss vary based on degree, but can include: mumbled or garbled speech, difficulty understanding day-to-day conversation and asking individuals to repeat themselves frequently.
Causes of hearing loss
It is important to understand the causes of hearing loss in order to find the right treatment. Hearing loss can be caused by an inherited condition, age related, noise induced, illness related, the result of ototoxic medication or head injuries or tumor related.
Hereditary hearing loss can be conductive, sensorineural or mixed and is the result of a genetic trait passed down from a parent, while age related is a type of sensorineural hearing loss, it commonly occurs from changes in the inner ear as a person ages. Noise-induced hearing loss is caused by prolonged exposure to loud noise and an illness-related hearing loss can develop over time and is the result or culmination of a disease or disorder.
There are numerous types of medications that have been linked to hearing loss. Some of the medications known to be ototoxic are: aminoglycoside antibiotics, aspirin, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and drugs used in chemotherapy regimens, but generally have to be consumed in large quantities to affect hearing. Another cause for hearing loss is from tumors or head injury. An acoustic neuroma is an example of one type of tumor which directly causes hearing loss. Individuals with tumor-related hearing loss might experience tinnitus (ringing in the ears) or might have a sensation of fullness in one or both ears.
Tests for hearing loss
Once a thorough evaluation has been taken, a hearing health provider will generally perform a hearing test or exam. Most hearing tests require individuals to be in a quiet, sound-treated room with special headphones or earplugs to wear.
Once in the booth, the individual will be asked to listen to a variety of tones and the test will keep track of what sounds an individual is struggling to hear. This part of the exam is usually known as the pure-tone audiometry. Speech audiometry is another way to test an individual’s threshold, but it only uses speech tones as opposed to pure tones. The audiologist also may test a person’s tympanometry and acoustic reflexes. In the event they proceed with this, a soft plug will be placed in the ear which can change pressure and generate noises.
Test results are presented on an audiogram. An audiogram is a graph that displays the softest sounds an individual can hear at different pitches. These results will enable your hearing healthcare provider to better access your needs.
Online hearing checks also are available. While online hearing tests should not be used in place of a hearing healthcare professional's opinion, they are often a good place to start if someone is hesitant about having their hearing checked.
Hearing loss treatments
Treatment options vary greatly depending on a number of factors, including: severity of hearing loss, type of hearing loss and an individual’s lifestyle; and should be evaluated and addressed by a hearing healthcare provider. The hearing professional might use a handful of treatment options to tackle the problem, such as surgical treatments or medications.
When medical intervention cannot restore hearing, hearing aids are a viable option for many individuals. Hearing aids can be purchased in a variety of colors, styles and sizes, and are available for different budgets based on what features an individual needs or wants.
Hearing loss prevention
Depending on the type and cause of the hearing loss, there are prevention methods which may help an individual protect their ability to hear. Noise-induced hearing loss is one of the easiest forms to prevent. Because this is generally a temporary loss, individuals can reduce their chances of developing it by avoiding exposure to loud environments or by wearing proper hearing protection, like earplugs or noise-canceling headphones.
Earplugs are one type of hearing protection available. They are generally made of acoustically imperforate materials and are a specific size so they can provide appropriate protection when worn properly.
Earmuffs or noise-cancellation earphones are others options for hearing protection. These selections often offer more protection against prolonged or higher levels of noise. These devices work by fitting and covering the entire ear, which stops loud noise from traveling through the ear canals.
- Prevalence and Incidence of Hearing Loss, American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, http://www.asha.org/public/hearing/Prevalence-and-Incidence-of-Hearing-Loss-in-Adults/