Hearing loss is a term that encompasses a wide variety of health challenges that all result in a reduced ability to hear. Hearing loss can have a sudden onset or develop gradually, and stem from different causes such as a noise exposure, infection or injury to the head. Regardless of its cause, it is important to remember that it is time for a hearing exam whenever you notice a change in the way you hear.
Conductive hearing loss means that you have a hearing issue based in the outer or middle parts of your ear. It indicates that sound waves are having trouble accessing the inner ear where sound signals are detected and transferred to the brain.
Conductive hearing loss can be caused by an obstruction in the ear, such as a build-up of earwax. Infections, colds and fluid buildup can also dampen your ability to hear. A perforated eardrum can also be the source of conductive hearing loss. Sometimes, conductive hearing loss is caused by physical malformations of the outer or middle ear. Many of the causes of conductive hearing loss can be addressed medically and hearing can be fully restored.
Sensorineural hearing loss involves the inner ear including the tiny hair cells responsible for detecting sound and the auditory pathway to the brain. The inner ear is a sophisticated mechanism in the body and damage to it can permanently harm your hearing. The hair cells living inside the ears’ cochlea are unable to repair or replace themselves when they are harmed. Thus, hair cells that are disabled will never return to functioning and a small portion of our hearing vanishes with their damage.
The inner ear can be damaged by many things. Most often, exposure to dangerous noise levels is responsible for sensorineural hearing loss. Infections, injuries and even some medications and circulatory issues can cause sensorineural hearing loss. Since the loss of hair cells is cumulative, sensorineural hearing loss becomes more distinct as we age. Unfortunately, when sensorineural hearing loss is present it is most often permanent but it can be treated effectively with hearing aids.
Mixed hearing loss indicates that hearing problems involve conductive and sensorineural issues. With mixed hearing loss, treatment may involve multiple strategies to address the multiple factors at play.
Levels of hearing loss are gradated by degrees, from mild to profound, based on how many decibels a sound must be amplified for your hearing to properly hear it. Mild hearing loss, the first degree of significant hearing trouble, means sound needs to be amplified to the 26-40 dB range. Degrees then increase every 15 dB, including moderate, moderately severe, and severe hearing loss. Any hearing loss that requires more than 90 dB of amplification is categorized as profound hearing loss.
Hearing loss can affect one of your ears or both. Unilateral hearing loss occurs when hearing loss is present in only a single ear, and bilateral is when hearing loss is present in both ears.
Similarly, hearing loss can affect both ears in the same way, or your ears can each experience distinct hearing issues. Symmetrical hearing loss means that a similar pattern of hearing challenges exists in both ears. Asymmetrical hearing loss occurs when there are distinct differences in the hearing loss of each ear.
Hearing loss can stem from many different causes. Permanent hearing loss is most often caused by exposure to hazardous levels of noise. Noise-induced hearing loss is also among the most preventable forms of hearing damage. Sound becomes too loud for our hearing at volumes over 85 dB. The louder the sound, the less time we can be exposed to it before lasting damage to our hearing occurs.
Our hearing can also face other forms of harm. Infections can cause hearing damage, as can head injuries. Health problems that limit our blood’s vitality and circulation can starve the delicate parts of the auditory system and cause permanent damage. Medications with ototoxic side effects also can cause permanent hearing loss.
Hearing loss is easiest to treat when it is detected early, so it is important to recognize the signs that your hearing may be experiencing issues. Any significant change in the way you hear could point to hearing health issues.
● Asking people to speak up or repeat themselves
● Voices sounding muffled or inaudible
● Setting the volume to high levels on TVs, radios and other audio systems
● Unable to follow conversations between more than 2 people
● Withdrawing from loud and complex social situations such as parties or restaurants
● Trouble keeping up with workplace activity or schoolwork
● Feel anxiety or stress around your ability to hear
If you find yourself experiencing the symptoms of hearing loss, take the first step and set up a hearing appointment. Your lifelong healthy hearing keeps you connected to the most important people and things in your life.