What Causes Hearing Loss?
Do you experience ringing in your ears? Do you have a hard time understanding what someone is saying? If so, you are not alone. Hearing loss is the most common condition affecting older adults.
Hearing loss is caused by noise, aging, disease, and heredity. Hearing involves both the ear’s ability to detect sounds as well as the brain’s ability to interpret those sounds. People with hearing loss may find it hard to have a conversation with friends and family. They may also have trouble understanding a doctor’s advice, responding to warnings, and hearing doorbells and alarms.
About 17% of American adults report some degree of hearing loss and the older you get the larger the percentages. 18% of Americans 45-64 years old, 30% of adults 65-74 years old, and 47% of adults 75 years old report some degree of hearing impairment. Men are more likely to experience hearing loss than women.
Factors that determine how much hearing loss will negatively affect a person’s quality of life include:
- the degree of the hearing loss;
- the pattern of hearing loss across different frequencies (pitches);
- whether one or both ears is affected;
- the areas of the auditory system that are not working normally—such as the middle ear, inner ear, neural pathways, or brain;
- the ability to recognize speech sounds;
- the history of exposures to loud noise and environmental or drug-related toxins that are harmful to hearing;
There are two general categories of hearing loss.
Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when there is damage to the inner ear or the auditory nerve. This type of hearing loss is usually permanent.
Conductive hearing loss occurs when sound waves cannot reach the inner ear. The cause may be earwax build-up, fluid, or a punctured eardrum. Medical treatment or surgery can usually restore conductive hearing loss.
More common in people over 50, presbycusis (a form of hearing loss) comes on gradually as a person ages. Presbycusis can occur because of changes in the inner ear, auditory nerve, middle ear, or outer ear. Some of its causes are aging, loud noise, heredity, head injury, infection, illness, certain prescription drugs, and circulation problems such as high blood pressure. Having presbycusis may make it hard for a person to tolerate loud sounds or to hear what others are saying.
A symptom of hearing loss is Tinnitus — a ringing, roaring, clicking, hissing, or buzzing sound. It can be loud or soft and heard in one or both ears. Tinnitus can accompany any type of hearing loss. It can be a side effect of medications or something as simple as a piece of earwax blocking the ear canal. But, tinnitus can also be the result of a number of health conditions.
If you think you have tinnitus, see your primary care doctor. You may be referred to an otolaryngologist — a surgeon who specializes in ear, nose, and throat diseases — (commonly called an ear, nose, and throat doctor, or an ENT). The ENT will physically examine your head, neck, and ears and test your hearing to determine the appropriate treatment.
Some people may not want to admit they have trouble hearing. Older people who can’t hear well may become depressed or may withdraw from others to avoid feeling frustrated or embarrassed about not understanding what is being said. Sometimes older people are mistakenly thought to be confused, unresponsive, or uncooperative just because they don’t hear well.
Hearing problems that are ignored or untreated can get worse. If you have a hearing problem, you can get help. See your doctor or audiologist. Hearing aids, special training, certain medicines, and surgery are some of the choices that can help people with hearing problems.
Hearing aid technology has improved over the years allowing for more comfortable and discreet solutions.
Our stores also carry hearing aid batteries, so be sure to have some on hand so don’t miss any important conversations.
Source: National Institute of Health