Hearing Loss

1 What is Hearing Loss?

Hearing loss that occurs during the aging process is very common. It is also known as presbycusis.

A good number of individuals between the ages of 55 and 64 have hearing loss to a certain degree. For those older than 65, the number of individuals with hearing loss is almost 1 in 2.

Hearing Loss

Aging and chronic exposure to loud noises are leading factors that contribute to hearing loss. Other factors, such as too much earwax, are a source of temporary hearing loss and prevent the ears from conducting sound as well as they are supposed to.

Most types of hearing loss are irreversible. However, one is capable of living in a world of muted, less distinct sounds. A person with hearing loss can work with their doctor to improve what they hear.

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2 Symptoms

There are various signs and symptoms that indicate hearing loss, some of which include the following:

  • muffling of speech and other sounds,
  • difficulty understanding words,
  • especially against background noise or in a crowd of people,
  • trouble hearing consonants,
  • frequently asking other individuals to speak slowly,
  • clearly and loudly,
  • needing to turn up the volume of any sound producing device,
  • withdrawal from conversation and avoiding certain social settings.

It is very important to seek immediate attention in cases of hearing loss, talking to a doctor especially if the hearing loss has an effect on daily life activities.

One’s hearing may have deteriorated if the find it to comprehend everything said in a conversation, especially in situations where there is background noise, sound seems muffled and one finds themselves turning the volume higher when listening to music, the radio or television.

3 Causes

Hearing loss can be caused by the following:

  • injury to the middle ear,
  • an accumulation of earwax,
  • infections and a ruptured eardrum.

Understanding how one hears will help in knowing how hearing loss occurs. When sound waves reach the structures of the internal ear, where the sound wave vibrations are converted into nerve signals that the brain identifies as sound. The human ear consists of three main divisions, these are the outer ear, middle ear and inner ear.

Sound waves pass through the outer ear and cause vibrations at the eardrum or the tympanic membrane. The eardrum and three small bones know as ossicles.

These structures of the middle ear amplify the vibrations as they travel to the inner ear. There, the vibrations pass through fluid in a snail-shaped structure in the inner ear (cochlea). Attached to nerve cells in the cochlea are myriad, very small hairs that help translate sound vibrations into electrical signals that are transmitted to the brain.

The vibrations of different sounds affect these tiny hairs in different ways, causing the nerve cells to send different signals to the brain. This is the mechanism that helps individuals distinguish one sound from another.

Causes of hearing loss include:

  • Damage to the inner ear,
  • aging
  • exposure to loud noise may cause wear and tear on the hairs or nerve cells in the cochlea that send sound signals to the brain.

When these hairs or nerve cells are damaged or missing, electrical signal transmission is disturbed, and hearing loss occurs. Higher pitched tones may become muffled to an individual with hearing loss, picking up words in the presence of background noise becomes very difficult.

Genetics may make one more prone to these changes. This type of hearing loss is known as sensorineural hearing loss, which is permanent.

Earwax can block the ear canal and prevent conduction of sound waves. This can be restored with earwax removal. Ear infection and any unnatural bone growths or tumors. Ruptured eardrum (tympanic membrane perforation) due loud blasts of noise, sudden changes in pressure and poking the ear when using an earbud can cause hearing loss.

4 Making a Diagnosis

Making a diagnosis of hearing loss is done by performing several tests.

Initially, any suspicion of having hearing loss should be immediately responded with an urgent call to a doctor. After evaluation doctor can make a reference to a hearing specialist known as an audiologist.

The following information can be helpful for one to prepare themselves for an appointment with the doctor: It is important to list all possible symptoms experienced and how long they have been noticeable.

Stating whether the hearing loss is in both ears and only one. It can also be helpful to involve a loved one in the making of this list.

Writing down other vital information, especially any that is relate to the actual loss of hearing. Doctors will always be interested in knowing about any chronic infection, injury to the ear or a previous ear surgery.

Other important information also includes add any vitamins, medications or supplements taken.

A summary of one’s work history is also necessary. Taking a family member along is important as they can remember any information that can be forgotten of one went alone. Writing down the questions to ask the doctor before the appointment will also be part of the preparation.

The following questions can be very important to ask the doctor:

  • What's the most likely cause of my symptoms?
  • Other than the most likely cause, what else might be causing my symptoms?
  • What tests do you recommend?
  • Should I stop taking any of my current medications?
  • Should I see a specialist?

One should also expect some questions from the doctor, the common ones being: Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions, including:

  • How would you describe your symptoms?
  • Do you have pain in the affected ear?
  • Did your symptoms come on suddenly?
  • Do you have ringing, roaring or hissing in your ears?
  • Do your symptoms include dizziness or balance problems?
  • Do you have a history of ear infections, ear trauma or ear surgery?
  • Have you ever worked in a job that exposed you to loud noise, flown airplanes or been in combat in the military?
  • Does your family complain that you turn up the volume of the television or radio too high?
  • Do you have trouble understanding someone who is talking to you in a low voice?
  • Do you have trouble understanding someone who is speaking to you on the telephone?
  • Do you frequently need to ask others to speak up or repeat themselves during conversation?
  • Does this happen more frequently in a noisy setting, such as a crowded restaurant?
  • Can you hear a coin hitting the floor or a door closing?
  • Can you hear when someone approaches you from behind?
  • If your hearing is impaired, does it bother you or affect your quality of life?
  • Would you be willing to use a hearing aid if needed?

There are several test that can be run to diagnose hearing loss, they include:

  • A physical exam done by looking into the ear for possible causes of hearing loss such as earwax accumulation or inflammation as a result of infection.
  • The doctor can also perform general screening tests, here a patient is asked to cover one ear at a time to figure out how well they hear words spoken out at different volumes and how they respond to other sounds.
  • Another test that can be carried out is called a tuning fork test. This test involves the use of two-prolonged metal instruments known as tuning forks, which produce sounds when struck.
  • Another way of detecting hearing loss is by carrying out an audiometer test. These thorough test are conducted by an audiologist, earphone are used to present a variety of sounds that are played into one ear at a time.Each tone is repeated at faint levels to find out the point at which one can barely hear. The audiologist will also present various words to determine hearing ability

5 Treatment

Usually treatment depends on cause and severity of the hearing loss.

There are a variety of treatments that can improve on's hearing.

Hearing aids have become a widely use means of correcting hearing loss.

Treatments such as earwax removal are related to hearing loss induced by an accumulation of earwax in the ear. Earwax can be removed by loosening it with oil and  then flushing, scooping or suctioning out the softened wax.

Surgery can also be a necessary procedure in order to correct hearing loss. It is widely used in situations where the patient had a traumatic ear injury or repeated infections that require the insertion of small tubes that help the ears drain.

Cochlear implants can be used by individuals with severe hearing loss. Cochlear implants compensate for any damage parts of the inner ear.

Any risks and benefits are usually discussed before any procedure can be done.

Hearing aides has been widely praised and highly beneficial to many hearing loss victims.

6 Prevention

There are several steps an individual can take to prevent any noise-induced hearing loss and avoiding aggravation of age related hearing loss.

It is always advised to keep the ear protected in working placing, this can be achieved through the use of specially designed ear muffs that resemble earphones to bring down most sounds to an acceptable level; Foam, preformed or custom moulded earplugs made out of plastic can be usable.

Considering regular hearing tests, especially for individuals who work in a noisy environment. Regular testing of hearing can provide early detection of hearing loss.

An individual who knows they’ve lost some hearing means they're in a position to take steps to prevent further hearing loss.

Avoiding recreational risks brought up by activities, such as riding a snowmobile, hunting or listening to rock concerts for long periods of time, can damage your hearing.

Wearing hearing protectors or taking breaks from the noise during loud recreational activities can significantly protect the ears.

Turning down the volume when listening to music can also help avoid damage to your hearing.

7 Lifestyle and Coping

Lifestyle modifications are necessary in order to cope with hearing loss.

The following tips can be helpful for any individual with hearing loss to communicate more effeciently with other individuals.

The first step is to position oneself to hear. By facing the person with whom a conversation is had. Another tip is by turning off any background noise. Background noise greatly interferes with the hearing capability of an indiviadual with hearing loss.

Asking other indiiduals to be clear is an important step, most people will be helpful especially when they know that the problem exists. Choosing quiet settings when going out, be it a restaurant or at a social gathering, it is always advisable to find a quiet place to hold any conversations.

Individuals can also consider using assistive listening devices. 

8 Risks and Complications

The following risk factors may contribute in one way or another in inducing hearing loss:

  • Age is a contributing factor,
  • degeneration of delicate inner hearing structures takes place as one ages.
  • Other factors like loud and explosive noises,
  • heredity(genetics),
  • being involved in a particular field of work, like farming or construction can lead to hearing loss.

Certain drugs such as the antibiotic gentamicin and certain chemotherapy drugs damage the inner ear which eventually culminates into hearing loss.