This is one of the questions we are asked most often. If you are concerned that you are experiencing some hearing loss, you are not alone, because the hearing of over 22 million Americans has become somewhat impaired, and 10 million of them have suffered hearing loss (which is defined as being unable to hear normal conversations).
We lose our hearing for countless reasons but more often than not hearing deteriorates as we get older. This type of age-related hearing loss is known as presbycusis. As we get older the nerves and sensitive hair cells in the inner ear begin to break down resulting in presbycusis or age-related hearing loss. Symptoms of this type of hearing loss are experienced as being unable to distinguish the difference between consonants like T, K, S, P, and F, or not hearing high-pitched sounds like the voices of women and children. The second most frequent cause of hearing loss is known as acoustic trauma or noise-induced hearing loss (NIMH), and happens when you have been exposed repeatedly to loud noises. This can affect young people as well as the elderly, especially if they are frequently around loud music, noisy equipment such as power mowers or motorcycles. These are both examples of what is called sensorineural hearing loss, and although these conditions can rarely be reversed or eliminated, they can easily be treated using hearing aids to amplify and filter the sounds you hear.
Another condition is conductive hearing loss, meaning that something is blocking the passage of sounds from the outer ear to the eardrum, and the most common cause of this is a buildup of ear wax, which can be easily treated and eliminated. Conductive hearing loss can also be the result of fluid in the middle ear, or by an abnormal bone formation in the ear called otosclerosis. This causes the inner ear to be less effective at transmitting and receiving sounds.
Other known causes for hearing loss are infections in the ear canal and middle ear, as well as medications including antibiotics and drugs used in cancer treatment. Disease can also create hearing loss: Meniere’s disease, diabetes, heart disease, acoustic neuroma (non cancerous tumors on the bones of the middle ear), and stroke can all create conditions in the ear where hearing is damaged.
The best advice we can give you if you suspect you are losing your hearing is to make an appointment to have your hearing tested, so that we may advise you as to possible causes of the condition, and how best to treat it. Your hearing loss won’t go away if you ignore it or pretend that it’s not there, and in many cases it can become worse or permanent by ignoring it, so don’t put off consulting a professional hearing specialist.