Your chances of acquiring hearing loss at some point in your life are regretfully quite high, even more so as you age. In the United States, 48 million people report some level of hearing loss, including almost two-thirds of adults age 70 and older.
That’s why it’s crucial to understand hearing loss, so that you can detect the signs and symptoms and take precautionary measures to avoid injury to your hearing. In this blog post, we’re going to concentrate on the most common form of hearing loss: sensorineural hearing loss.
The three forms of hearing loss
In general, there are three types of hearing loss:
- Conductive hearing loss
- Sensorineural hearing loss
- Mixed hearing loss (a combination of conductive and sensorineural)
Conductive hearing loss is less common and is caused by some kind of blockage in the outer or middle ear. Typical causes of conductive hearing loss include impacted earwax, ear infections, benign tumors, perforated eardrums, and genetic malformations of the ear.
However, sensorineural hearing loss is far more common.
Sensorineural hearing loss
This type of hearing loss is the most prevalent and makes up about 90 percent of all documented hearing loss. It is the result of damage to the hair cells (nerves of hearing) of the inner ear or to the nerves running from the inner ear to the brain.
With sensorineural hearing loss, sound waves enter through the external ear, hit the eardrum, and reach the inner ear (the cochlea and hair cells) as normal. However, on account of destruction to the hair cells (the very small nerve cells of hearing), the sound signal that is provided to the brain for processing is diminished.
This diminished signal is perceived as muffled or faint and normally has an effect on speech more than other types of lower-pitched sounds. Additionally, contrary to conductive hearing loss, sensorineural hearing loss is generally permanent and cannot be corrected with medicine or surgery.
Causes and symptoms
Sensorineural hearing loss has a range of potential causes, including:
- Genetic disorders
- Family history of hearing loss
- Meniere’s Disease or other disorders
- Head trauma
- Benign tumors
- Exposure to loud noise
- Aging (presbycusis)
The final two, exposure to loud noise and the aging process, constitute the most common causes of sensorineural hearing loss, which is honestly good news as it shows that most cases of hearing loss can be avoided (you can’t avoid aging, of course, but you can minimize the cumulative exposure to sound over the course of your lifetime).
To fully grasp the symptoms of sensorineural hearing loss, you should keep in mind that damage to the nerve cells of hearing usually happens very gradually. Consequently, the symptoms progress so slowly and gradually that it can be nearly impossible to notice.
A slight measure of hearing loss every year will not be very detectable to you, but after several years it will be very apparent to your family and friends. So although you might believe everyone is mumbling, it might be that your hearing loss is catching up to you.
Here are some of the symptoms to look for:
- Difficulty understanding speech
- Difficulty following conversions, especially with more than one person
- Turning up the television and radio volume to unreasonable levels
- Consistently asking others to repeat themselves
- Experiencing muffled sounds or ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
- Feeling excessively exhausted at the end of the day
If you notice any of these symptoms, or have had people inform you that you might have hearing loss, it’s best to arrange a hearing test. Hearing tests are fast and painless, and the sooner you treat hearing loss the more hearing you’ll be able to maintain.
Prevention and treatment
Sensorineural hearing loss is mostly preventable, which is great news since it is without question the most common form of hearing loss. Millions of cases of hearing loss in the United States could be eliminated by adopting some simple protective measures.
Any sound above 80 decibels (the volume of city traffic inside your car) can potentially affect your hearing with long-term exposure.
As the decibel level increases, the amount of time of safe exposure decreases. Which means at 100 decibels (the volume of a rock concert), any exposure over 15 minutes could harm your hearing.
Here are some tips on how you can protect against hearing loss:
- Use the 60/60 rule – when listening to a portable music player through headphones, listen for no more than 60 minutes at no more than 60 percent of the max volume. Additionally, think about buying noise-canceling headphones, as these will require lower volumes.
- Shield your ears at concerts – rock concerts can range from 100-120 decibels, far above the limit of safe volume (you could injure your hearing within 15 minutes). Limit the volume with the aid of foam earplugs or with musician’s plugs that maintain the quality of the music.
- Protect your ears on the job – if you work in a loud occupation, check with your employer about its hearing protection program.
- Protect your hearing at home – a variety of household and leisure activities produce high-decibel sounds, including power saws, motorcycles, and firework displays. Make sure that you always use ear protection during prolonged exposure.
If you already have hearing loss, all is not lost. Hearing aids, while not able to completely restore your hearing, can dramatically improve your life. Hearing aids can enhance your conversations and relationships and can forestall any additional consequences of hearing loss.
If you think you might have sensorineural hearing loss, book your quick and easy hearing test today!