Facts About Hearing Loss
Most people take their hearing for granted, giving little thought to this vital sense until there is a problem. For the 48 million Americans who contend with hearing loss on a daily basis, everyday life can be a struggle. Learn more about hearing loss in the following section.
Hearing loss affects people of all ages—even children and teenagers. In fact, two-thirds of patients are under the age of 65. Hearing loss isn’t just caused by aging; it can result from noise exposure, disease, trauma, or ototoxic medications.
There are three main types of hearing loss, depending on which part of the ear is damaged. Sensorineural hearing loss is by far the most common type, making up 90% of all cases. Often referred to as nerve deafness, sensorineural hearing loss occurs when there is damage to the inner ear. It is most commonly caused by aging or noise exposure, but may also occur due to viral infections, trauma, hereditary factors, autoimmune disorders, diseases, malformations of the inner ear, ototoxic medications and benign tumors. There is no cure for sensorineural hearing loss, but most patients can be treated successfully with hearing aids.
Conductive hearing loss involves damage to the middle or outer ear and, in many cases, may be treatable. Conductive hearing loss is caused by excess fluid or earwax buildup, ear infections, allergies, objects in the ear, bony growths known as otosclerosis and benign tumors. Patients may benefit from medications or surgery, depending on the exact cause.
Mixed hearing loss is a combination of sensorineural and conductive involves damage to the inner and middle or outer ear. Treatment options depend on the extent and degree of hearing loss, as well as the underlying cause.
While most forms of hearing loss are permanent, noise-induced hearing loss is at least preventable if you take a few simple precautions. By wearing hearing protection whenever you are going to be exposed to loud activities for an extended period of time, you can prevent damage to the ears. Concerts, sporting events, riding a motorcycle or speedboat, watching fireworks, and even mowing the lawn are all activities in which earplugs should be worn. Custom hearing protection is available for people whose activities or pastimes put them at high risk of hearing damage, a category that includes musicians, swimmers, hunters, military personnel and law enforcement officials.
It is important to learn the signs of hearing loss, as prompt detection will improve your odds of successful treatment. Symptoms of hearing loss include having difficulty understanding speech, especially when women or children are talking; having to ask others to repeat themselves frequently; feeling that people mumble when they speak; and listening to music or watching TV at a volume others find uncomfortable.
Treating Tinnitus (Ringing in the Ears)
Tinnitus, commonly referred to as a ringing in the ears, is an affliction that bothers an estimated 50 million Americans to varying degrees. For some it is a minor and occasional annoyance, while others suffer constantly and find it interferes with their daily lives. You’ll find more information on tinnitus in the section below.
Tinnitus is usually described as a ringing in the ear, though it can take on many other forms. People report it as variously resembling a whooshing, buzzing, clicking, hissing, whirring or chirping sound, as well. For a few unlucky individuals tinnitus is debilitating, and negatively affects many aspects of their lives.
Tinnitus is a symptom rather than a condition. Unless the underlying cause is treatable, there is no cure. Treatment usually involves coping strategies and masking techniques. These might include any of the following:
- Sound therapy. This technique is used to refocus the brain’s attention away from the distraction of tinnitus, and typically involves white noise therapy. White noise is a random distribution of sound frequencies across the hearing spectrum, and is used to help the patient “tune out” the background noise associated with their tinnitus. Special white noise machines are available, but many patients can achieve the same effect by turning on a fan, air conditioner or humidifier, or even tuning the radio to a spot where there is static.
- Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT). TRT is a combination of sound therapy and patient education and counseling. Coping mechanisms are taught, and the patient learns about different causes and effects of tinnitus. Low-level sound generators similar to white noise machines, but which employ soft patterned tones, are used to distract the brain from the sounds of tinnitus.
- Hearing aids. Tinnitus is often associated with hearing loss. One of the simplest methods of dealing with the distracting background noise is turning up the volume so that other sounds drown out the tinnitus. Some hearing aids even contain features that are designed to mask tinnitus, such as gently soothing sounds.
Hearing tests are instrumental in determining the type and severity of your hearing loss – information necessary for formulating a successful treatment plan. Curious about whether you might benefit from a hearing test? Take our online hearing assessment to see if a follow-up examination should be scheduled.
Communication Tips For Your Family
Communicating with a loved one who is experiencing a hearing loss can prove challenging. By following a few tips, you’ll overcome many of the obstacles, resulting in conversations that are more efficient and less stressful. Learn more here.
Protect Your Hearing
One of the most common causes of hearing loss is noise exposure. Fortunately, noise-induced hearing loss is easily preventable if you know how to protect your ears properly. Learn more about protecting your hearing by following the link.
What Is an Audiologist?
Audiologists are healthcare professionals who have been specially trained in the evaluation, diagnosis, treatment and management of hearing loss, tinnitus and balance disorders in adults and children. To become an audiologist, an individual must earn a master’s or doctoral degree (the current standard is a Doctor of Audiology or Au.D.) from an accredited university, complete an internship, pass a national competency examination and earn a license to practice in the state in which they reside.
Audiologists possess many specialized skills and perform a variety of duties including hearing testing, prescribing and fitting hearing aids, assisting in cochlear implant programs, performing hearing-related surgical monitoring, designing and implementing hearing conservation programs and newborn hearing screenings and providing aural rehabilitation training such as auditory training, speech reading and listening skills improvement.
An audiologist is uniquely qualified to provide the most thorough care when it comes to treating hearing loss in patients of all ages.
Hearing with Two Ears
Good hearing is dependent upon both ears. Binaural hearing is essential when it comes to understanding speech, localizing sounds and filtering out obtrusive background noise. For this reason, we recommend a pair of hearing aids – one for each ear – for the majority of our patients, with the exception of those suffering from single-sided deafness, a relatively rare condition.