Hearing loss: causes, symptoms, treatment

If you have noticed that your hearing has changed and it’s not what it used to be then you are far from alone. Around 466 million people around the world have hearing loss, according to the World Health Organization.

Knowing the details of hearing loss will help you to better understand your level of hearing.

466 million

Around 466 million people around the world have hearing loss

How hearing works

Sound waves pass into the ear, move down the auditory canal and then hit the eardrum. The eardrum will then vibrate and these vibrations pass to three bones called the ossicles, in the middle ear. These bones amplify vibrations which are picked up by small hair cells in the cochlea. These hair cells move as they are hit by the vibrations and this movement data is then passed through the auditory nerve to your brain. Your brain processes the information which, if you have functional hearing, interprets it as sound.

Signs of hearing loss

Hearing loss generally happens gradually, so you may not have noticed that your hearing has changed. However, there are some common signs of hearing loss to watch out for:

  • People complain that your TV is on too loud
  • You struggle to follow conversations in busy environments such as restaurants
  • You find it difficult to hear on the phone
  • You often ask people to repeat themselves
  • It sounds as if people are mumbling when they talk
  • Your friend and family complain that you aren’t listening to them

If you can relate to some of these scenarios, then you may have hearing loss.

Levels of hearing loss

Hearing loss can be broken down into four levels:

Mild hearing loss

You are only able to detect sounds between 25-29 decibels (dB). You are likely to find it difficult to understand conversations, particularly if there a lot of background noise.

Moderate hearing loss

You can only pick up sounds that are between 40dB-69dB. You will likely find it very difficult to follow a conversation without the use of a hearing aid.

Severe hearing loss

You are only able to hear sounds above 70dB-89dB. Despite using a hearing aid, you still need to use sign language or lip-read to be able to effectively communicate.

Profound hearing loss

With this level of hearing loss, you cannot hear any sounds below 90dB. In fact, you may not be able to hear anything at all. You will need to rely on reading, writing, lip-reading and sign language to communicate.

Causes of hearing loss

Inside your ear are some of the most delicate bones in your body. Damage to the middle ear or ear drum can cause hearing loss. There are several factors that can cause hearing loss, such as:

  • Infections during pregnancy such as syphilis or rubella
  • Low weight at birth
  • Lack of oxygen at birth
  • Drugs during pregnancy
  • Ageing
  • Infectious diseases 
  • Ear infections
  • Collection of fluid in the ear
  • Certain medicines
  • Severe injury to the ear or head
  • Exposure to extremely loud noise
  • Diabetes
  • Certain cancers

Hearing loss treatments

If you have become aware you are losing your hearing and have started to find it difficult to communicate, there are treatments that can help:

  • Hearing aids don’t cure hearing loss but they can amplify sounds that pass into your ear and allow you to hear more clearly.
  • Cochlear implants can help to improve your understanding of speech by inserting a narrow electrode into the cochlea which stimulates electricity through a microprocessor inserted under the skin behind your ear.
  • Sign language and lip-reading are valuable if you have a complete loss of hearing.

If you think your hearing has changed slightly or considerably, you should get your hearing checked as soon as possible. While hearing aids may not be able to help if you have profound hearing loss, there are treatments available for other levels of hearing loss.

With you on your journey to better hearing.

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