Hearing Loss

1 in 6 adults experience some degree of hearing loss

Imagine dining in a busy restaurant.

In the background there are dishes clattering, chairs scraping, people talking and laughing, and waiters rushing about. You are straining to follow what is happening at your table – and the effort of doing this is starting to make you feel more and more tired.

Eventually, you start pretending you can hear.

You nod, look interested and laugh with the crowd even though you didn’t get the jokes. You begin to feel left out. When you leave the restaurant, you have a throbbing headache, disappointment and no plans to repeat the experience anytime soon.

Hearing loss differs from vision loss

As with the eye, the ear’s performance is affected by aging. However, bad vision gradually makes reading harder as the letters get smaller, but hearing loss is different.

Hearing loss can make certain syllables and sounds harder to hear. For example, high-pitched consonants like f, s and t are easily drowned out by louder, low-pitched vowels like a, o and u. This results in a person with hearing loss complaining they hear loudly enough but not clearly enough, like mumbling.

Hearing loss can affect your social life

Untreated hearing loss can cause you to withdraw from socializing because conversations take so much more mental energy. Left untreated, studies show, hearing loss can lead to feelings of isolation and depression.

Do I need hearing aids?

If you can answer YES to one or more of these questions you might have hearing loss:

  • Do you find that people around you mumble or speak softly?
  • Do you find conversations in restaurants or crowded places difficult?
  • Do you often have to turn up the volume on your TV, radio or phone?
  • Do friends and family members complain that they repeat what they say to you?
  • Do you have to look at people’s faces to understand what they are saying?
  • Have you noticed that everyday sounds, like the twittering of birds, footsteps or the clock ticking, are gone?

Causes

Age-related hearing loss

As we get older we may lose the ability to hear softer, high-pitched sounds. Birdsong is easy to live without, but getting by when you lose some of the building blocks of speech is a far more challenging business.

Age-related hearing loss is caused by daily life-long wear and tear of the hearing system, and the most common symptoms are trouble hearing soft voices, as well as trouble hearing speech when background noise is present. Often, family members will notice age-related hearing loss before the person with the loss is really bothered by it.

Noise-induced hearing loss

This is often caused by overexposure to excessive noise. It threatens the hearing of military personnel, police officers, construction workers, factory workers, farmers to name but a few. Loud music can also damage people’s hearing. Regular exposure to loud noise will accelerate hearing loss. That’s why it’s important to always wear ear protectors if you are exposed to excessive noise.

Types

Outer and middle ear hearing loss (Conductive)

Conductive hearing loss is caused by problems in the outer and middle ear, which can prevent sounds getting through to the inner ear. The most common cause can be a build-up of wax in the ear canal, a perforated eardrum, fluid in the middle ear, or damaged or defective middle ear bones (ossicles).

Inner ear hearing loss (Sensorineural)

This type of hearing loss happens when the delicate nerve fibers in the inner ear get damaged. This stops them transmitting sound properly. It can be caused by excessive exposure to noise, but the most common causes of sensorineural hearing loss are the natural processes of aging. For some the sensory cells wear out already at the age of 50 whereas others have only negligible hearing loss even at the age of 80. This condition is permanent in most cases.

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