Your chances of acquiring hearing loss at some point in your life are regrettably quite high, even more so as you age. In the United States, 48 million individuals report some level of hearing loss, including almost two-thirds of adults age 70 and older.
That’s the reason it’s crucial to understand hearing loss, so that you can recognize the symptoms and take protective actions to prevent injury to your hearing. In this blog post, we’re going to concentrate on the most widespread type of hearing loss: sensorineural hearing loss.
The three types of hearing loss
In general, there are three forms of hearing loss:
- Conductive hearing loss
- Sensorineural hearing loss
- Mixed hearing loss (a mix of sensorineural and conductive)
Conductive hearing loss is less common and is triggered by some type of obstruction in the outer or middle ear. Frequent causes of conductive hearing loss include ear infections, perforated eardrums, benign tumors, impacted earwax, and hereditary malformations of the ear.
This article will focus on sensorineural hearing loss as it is by far the most common.
Sensorineural hearing loss
This form of hearing loss is the most common and accounts for about 90 percent of all documented hearing loss. It results from damage to the hair cells (the nerves of hearing) of the inner ear or to the nerves running from the inner ear to the brain.
With sensorineural hearing loss, sound waves enter the outer ear, hit the eardrum, and reach the inner ear (the cochlea and hair cells) as normal. However, because of damage to the hair cells (the very small nerve cells of hearing), the sound signal that is provided to the brain for processing is weakened.
This diminished signal is perceived as faint or muffled and usually affects speech more than other types of lower-pitched sounds. Additionally, as opposed to conductive hearing loss, sensorineural hearing loss is typically permanent and cannot be remedied with medication or surgery.
Causes and symptoms
Sensorineural hearing loss has varied possible causes, including:
- Genetic disorders
- Family history of hearing loss
- Meniere’s Disease or other disorders
- Head injuries
- Benign tumors
- Exposure to loud noise
- The aging process (presbycusis)
The last two, direct exposure to loud noise and aging, represent the most widespread causes of sensorineural hearing loss, which is honestly good news because it suggests that the majority of cases of hearing loss can be prevented (you can’t avoid aging, obviously, but you can minimize the cumulative exposure to sound over your lifetime).
To fully understand the symptoms of sensorineural hearing loss, you should remember that damage to the nerve cells of hearing almost always unfolds very slowly. Consequently, the symptoms advance so gradually that it can be near impossible to detect.
A small measure of hearing loss every year will not be very recognizable to you, but after several years it will be very noticeable to your friends and family. So even though you may believe everyone is mumbling, it could very well be that your hearing loss is catching up to you.
Here are a few of the symptoms to watch for:
- Difficulty understanding speech
- Trouble following conversions, particularly with more than one person
- Turning up the television and radio volume to elevated levels
- Continuously asking other people to repeat themselves
- Experiencing muffled sounds or ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
- Feeling excessively tired at the end of the day
If you recognize any of these symptoms, or have had people inform you that you might have hearing loss, it’s a good idea to arrange a hearing exam. Hearing tests are easy and pain-free, and the sooner you treat your hearing loss the more hearing you’ll be able to conserve.
Prevention and treatment
Sensorineural hearing loss is mostly preventable, which is good news because it is without question the most common form of hearing loss. Millions of cases of hearing loss in the United States could be averted by adopting some simple protective measures.
Any sound higher than 80 decibels (the volume of city traffic inside your car) can potentially damage your hearing with long-term 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 protect against hearing loss:
- Apply the 60/60 rule – when listening to a portable music player with headphones, listen for no more than 60 minutes at no more than 60 percent of the max volume. Additionally, think about purchasing noise-canceling headphones, as these will require lower volumes.
- Safeguard your ears at live shows – rock concerts can range from 100-120 decibels, significantly above the ceiling of safe volume (you could injure your hearing within 15 minutes). Minimize the volume with the aid of foam earplugs or with musician’s plugs that maintain the quality of the music.
- Protect your ears at your workplace – if you work in a loud profession, talk with your employer about its hearing protection program.
- Protect your hearing at home – a number of household and leisure activities produce high-decibel sounds, including power saws, motorcycles, and firework displays. Always use ear protection during extended exposure.
If you currently have hearing loss, all hope is not lost. Hearing aids, while not able to completely restore your hearing, can substantially improve your life. Hearing aids can enhance your conversations and relationships and can forestall any further consequences of hearing loss.
If you suspect you may have sensorineural hearing loss, book your quick and simple hearing test today!