Welcome to the Hearing Loss Center!
Think of the countless things that can go wrong with the human body. There are dozens of different kinds of doctors who all specialize in various parts of the human body, and the endless number of afflictions that can befall anyone at any time.
As evidenced by the existence of audiologists and hearing specialists, the ear is no exception to needing attentive care from trained doctors.
Hearing loss isn’t a sliding scale that takes you from “fully able to hear” to “deaf.” There are various ways you can lose your hearing, along with all kinds of causes and treatments, and having even a broad awareness of this realm of healthcare can save you a lot of headaches (figuratively and literally.)
This article will tell you all about hearing loss – the symptoms, causes, helpful technology, and anything else you might need to know when addressing hearing loss.
Rather than reading an article, you might want to have a conversation about hearing loss with a qualified professional. If that is the case, then we invite you to attend a free consultation with a hearing specialist near you. If you follow this link, you’ll be able to arrange an appointment, where you can ask as many questions as you can think of.
On this page:
What is hearing loss?
Despite sounding like a single condition, hearing loss is a pretty broad term that can refer to all sorts of things. Being such a wide-ranging affliction, you can see how it would impact a large percentage of the population. You may be surprised to know, however, that hearing loss affects an enormous 13% of Americans (around 30 million cases.)
Hearing loss is obviously more prevalent in older demographics, but can occur in any individual, regardless of gender, age, or race. And with 90% of deaf children born to hearing parents, any claim behind a consistent genetic link is shaky at best.
“Hearing loss” overall obviously refers to the degradation of a person’s ears. But for a full breakdown of what hearing loss is, you can read through our “hearing loss explained” article, which offers in-depth coverage on all kinds of hearing loss info.
How can you tell if you’re undergoing hearing loss? Well, the given answer is if you’re noticing any problems with your hearing, then you’re probably undergoing some form of hearing loss. The kind and cause will only be determinable by a qualified hearing specialist, but if you do notice a dip in your hearing quality, you should address it as soon as possible.
But it can be hard to notice if you’re losing your hearing. In some cases, it can be so gradual that you might not notice until you’re in the thick of it. If you frequently find yourself turning up the TV or asking people to repeat themselves, it might be time for a bit of self-reflection on whether or not you’re experiencing hearing loss.
Types of hearing loss by severity
When it comes to gauging your hearing loss, there are four main levels that anyone’s hearing loss can fall under. These are:
As you can tell from the names of these classifications, mild is the tamest form of hearing loss, while profound is practically deafness.
They are all roughly as common as each other, but require different approaches.
For mild hearing loss, an OTC hearing aid will be enough to restore an individual’s hearing loss.
For moderate and severe hearing loss, a hearing aid will most likely be prescribed.
For profound hearing loss, however, a hearing aid may not be enough. In these cases, the hearing specialist could suggest a cochlear implant.
If you want to avoid hearing loss, what should you refrain from doing? The most obvious one that we shouldn’t even have to say: avoid loud noises as much as you can. Think concerts (without earplugs,) constant headphone use, and failure to use proper aural protection when in a loud working environment.
However, less obvious culprits include things like alcohol, tobacco, and certain medications, all of which are “ototoxic,” which means they are poisonous to the ear. If you over-indulge in any of these substances, you could cause long-term damage to your hearing ability.
Do you think you might have hearing loss?
If you think you might be suffering from hearing loss, it's worth arranging a free hearing consultation
Some diseases can also cause hearing loss. This can be temporary, only occurring alongside the disease itself, but if a fever is intense enough, it can start to kill cells within the ear, leading to permanent hearing loss.
Finally, and possibly surprisingly, activities that involve salt water can cause short-term damage to your ear. Surfing and diving can cause a condition known as “surfer’s ear,” where the ear canal swells up and closes over itself. While this is never permanent, repeated exposure can cause problems further down the line.
Which jobs cause hearing loss?
Earlier, we mentioned that you should use proper ear protection in loud working environments. This was referring to places like building sites or factories, where loud machinery is commonplace.
How to prevent hearing loss
After seeing the causes, the best ways to prevent hearing loss should be pretty obvious. Most of them are just “don’t partake in one of the causes” (e.g. don’t drink, smoke, go to loud events, etc.)
But there are a couple of other tips for preventing hearing loss. It’s fairly easy to assume what these would be – address any problems quickly and appropriately, don’t put foreign objects in your ears, and take regular intervals when using headphones.
Let’s get into some of the more specific terms referring to hearing loss or conditions. Like we said before, “hearing loss” is a bit of an umbrella term, so what falls under that umbrella?
Tinnitus: One of the more widely known hearing conditions is tinnitus – a consistent ringing or buzzing in one’s ear. This is usually caused by prolonged exposure to loud noise. It can be temporary, like the morning after a loud concert – but if enough damage is done to your ears, it can be permanent and debilitating.
Conductive hearing loss: One of the two main classifications of hearing loss, conductive hearing loss refers to any hearing loss that occurs in the outer or middle ear. This could be anything from a problem with the pinna – the part of your ear you can touch – to the eardrum at the end of the ear canal. This is usually entirely curable with a cleaning, medication, or operation.
Sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL): The other classification of hearing loss. Sensorineural hearing loss refers to hearing loss that occurs in the inner ear. This is the most common form of hearing loss by a mile, accounting for 90% of hearing loss cases. This usually occurs as the small hair cells within the cochlea start to die – a result of disease, ototoxicity, or exposure to too much sound.
As you can see from the “neural” half of “sensorineural,” it can also occur due to nerve damage within the brain. This is almost always present from birth, and aside from the small chance of brain damage throughout life, won’t pop up out of the blue.
Sudden sensorineural hearing loss: Sudden sensorineural hearing loss can happen to anyone at any time. John Everyman may never have had any hearing problems in his life, but could wake up one morning with seriously impaired hearing (usually in a single ear, but sometimes both.) If addressed quickly enough, our hero John’s hearing may be restored to normal – but if left unchecked, it may become permanently impaired.
Presbycusis (age-induced hearing loss): Hearing loss sustained over a lifetime of sound exposure. Presbycusis takes the form of sensorineural hearing loss, as the small hair cells in the inner ear slowly die over the course of a person’s life.
Noise-induced hearing loss: What it sounds like – noise-induced hearing loss occurs after significant exposure to noise. This can be a singular instance, like being near an explosion or erupting volcano, or a gradual process, like being near power tools over the course of months or years.
Unilateral/Bilateral hearing loss: A nice quick one – unilateral hearing loss refers to hearing loss occurring in one ear, whereas bilateral hearing loss occurs in both ears at the same time. Bilateral hearing loss is generally associated with noise and age, while unilateral is typically paired with injury or disease.
Tympanosclerosis: This is a scarring or accumulation of calcium deposits on the tympanic membrane (eardrum) or in the middle ear. They are often a result of ear infections, but the exact cause is still up for debate. They can be easily diagnosed by a simple otoscopy (looking into the ear with a flashlight). Surgery is often used to remove the calcium, but if that is impossible or inadvisable, a hearing aid can be offered instead.
What to do if you think you have hearing loss
As a general rule, if you think you’re experiencing hearing loss, you probably are. If your friends and family say they find you asking “what?” more than a person should, then it’s worth looking into a consultation with a hearing specialist.
Don’t worry – it’s not a huge commitment, for either your time or your money, as it’s free if you fill in this short form. It’s also not a complete surrender. Seeing a specialist doesn’t mean that you’re accepting defeat at the hands of your collapsing cochlea – it simply means you’re checking up on an important part of your physiology.
And if you aren’t losing your hearing, then it still wouldn’t be a waste of time. Even someone with perfect hearing can benefit from a hearing test, as it establishes a baseline against which future hearing tests can be compared.
Beyond hearing aids, there are several hearing technologies that can help you recover or treat your hearing.
Various technologies are used by audiologists to perform surgery on the inner ear, but other than these specialised tools, there are some devices that an individual can use to help themselves on a day-to-day basis.
Firstly, we have the aforementioned personal sound amplification product (PSAP.) They’re far cheaper, as they only contain a microphone, amplifier, and speaker, and not the full kit of features that come with a standard hearing aid.
Then, on the other end of the spectrum, we have cochlear implants. These are surgically inserted into the head, and use electricity to bypass the first steps of the hearing process. Instead of the sound going through the outer ear, it’s sent directly to the auditory nerve. These are essentially last resorts, when even hearing aids won’t do the trick.
Finally, there’s a device called a “bone conduction hearing device.” These devices can look like headbands, glasses, or headphones, and send sound to the brain directly by vibrating the bones in the head. This helps people with conductive hearing loss or single-sided deafness.
Hearing loss overall
Hearing loss can affect anyone. There is no surefire way to stop it from happening, so it’s best to be on your toes and aware of the early signs and treatments. Remember – the earlier you address any potential hearing loss issues, the easier and cheaper it is to treat.
If you’d like to have a hearing test to assess your level of hearing, you can arrange a free hearing consultation.