Do people seem to speak less clearly than they did in the past? Does your TV always seem to be too quiet? If you answered yes, you may have hearing loss. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), hearing loss is a common condition in the United States.
While the risk for hearing loss is higher as you age, hearing loss can occur at any age. Two to three of every 1000 children are born with some degree of hearing loss. Hearing loss interferes with communication, causes social isolation and adversely affects quality of life. Fortunately, there is treatment for hearing loss.
If you do not have hearing loss, it may seem hard to believe that someone can become hard of hearing without noticing. However, most people are unaware of early hearing loss. For adults, age related hearing loss is a slow, gradual process and our brains compensate for decreased sound levels. You might find yourself turning up the volume on TV or not enjoying social activities without realizing the cause. Children born with hearing loss have never experienced normal hearing, so their loss and how they hear is their “normal hearing.” In both cases, it’s often friends and relatives of those with hearing loss who notice the problem first.
If you’ve experienced any of the following, you may need to look into hearing loss treatment:
Hearing loss treatment begins with a hearing test, or audiogram. An audiogram tests how well you hear sounds of varying frequencies or pitches. The test is measured in decibels and the test results are called your hearing threshold level. Depending on your results, you’ll fall into one of the following categories:
During an audiogram you wear headphones and listen to sounds sent to one ear at a time. You signal when you hear a sound. For comparison, a whisper is approximately 20 decibels, while a loud music concert is between 80-120 decibels.
Speech audiometry is used to measure how well you can perceive and repeat spoken words. Another test, acoustic immittance uses a probe and gentle air pressure to measure eardrum movement and air pressure equalization in your middle ear and eustachian tube.
Hearing loss treatments include hearing aids, cochlear implants, surgery, and medication. The type of treatment that’s best for you will depend on the cause of your hearing loss. Hearing loss is divided into three broad categories: sensorineural, conductive, and mixed.
Hearing aids are the most common type of treatment for hearing loss. A hearing aid is a small device worn in or behind the ear to make certain sounds louder, which helps you hear in both quiet and noisy environments.
Choosing the right hearing aid is important, as only one in five people who could benefit from hearing aids actually use them. This reluctance is partially explained by embarrassment over having to wear the aid, and partly by incorrectly fitted, uncomfortable devices. Choosing the right hearing aid model for your lifestyle and ear shape increases the likelihood you’ll use the device regularly.
Hearing aids use microphones to pick up sound, a digital processor to adjust the sound to compensate for your hearing loss, and amplifier to make the sound louder and a receiver or miniature sound speaker that delivers the sound to the ear.
Cochlear implants are typically used for people who are either deaf or extremely hard of hearing. Unlike hearing aids, which amplify sounds, a cochlear implant translates sounds into electrical impulses that bypass any damaged portions of the ear and directly stimulate the auditory nerve. The implant does not provide “ordinary” hearing but does help the person wearing the device understand speech and identify warning signals in the environment.
A typical cochlear implant comes in two parts: an external portion that picks up sound and transmits it to the second part of the device, which is surgically implanted under the skin just above the ear. The internal part converts transmitted sounds into electric impulses.
Severe hearing loss may may require assistive listening devices in addition to hearing aids. Assisted listening devices amplify sound and deliver it directly to the ear. Such devices may use FM radio waves, infrared, or inductive loop technology to help people hear televisions, listen to music, talk on the phone, and filter out background noise during conversations.
If you think you’re experiencing hearing loss, contact a licensed hearing care professional and schedule an examination. While most forms of hearing loss cannot be reversed, proper treatment can significantly improve your hearing and quality of life.
Conductive hearing loss results from illness, deformities, or trauma to the outer or inner ear, including congenital defects, earwax buildup, perforated eardrums, tumors, and ear infections. Unlike sensorineural hearing loss, conductive hearing loss can often be reversed with treatment.
Conductive hearing loss treatment depends on the root cause of hearing loss. Antibiotic and antifungal medication is used to treat ear infections, while surgery may be necessary to open the ear canal, correct congenital deformities, remove tumors, or repair damage caused by trauma. Sometimes treating conductive hearing loss is as simple as draining the ear canal of excessive fluid and the removal of wax.
While age-related hearing loss develops so gradually many people aren’t aware it’s happening, one type of sensorineural hearing loss occurs within days or hours, usually in only one ear. Sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSNL) is considered a medical emergency and requires immediate medical intervention.
Some cases of SSNL are thought to result from viral infections, but the root cause of many cases is never discovered. Prompt use of corticosteroids to reduce inner ear swelling and inflammation is required to prevent SSNL from causing permanent hearing loss.
It's time to finally treat your hearing loss. Sign up for a free consultation with a licensed hearing care professional today to determine if you have hearing loss. It’s the start of your journey towards better hearing.
Veterans and active military personnel often develop sensorineural hearing loss as a direct result of their service. If you have hearing loss and served in the military, Veterans Affairs covers hearing loss treatment for those who qualify.