Your odds of developing hearing loss at some time in your life are regrettably quite high, even more so as you age. In the US, 48 million individuals report some extent of hearing loss, including nearly two-thirds of adults age 70 and older.
That’s the reason it’s vital to understand hearing loss, so that you can identify the symptoms and take preventative measures to reduce injury to your hearing. In this blog post, we’re going to zero in on the most common type of hearing loss: sensorineural hearing loss.
The three forms of hearing loss
Generally speaking, there are three forms of hearing loss:
- Conductive hearing loss
- Sensorineural hearing loss
- Mixed hearing loss (a combination of sensorineural and conductive)
Conductive hearing loss is less common and results from some kind of blockage in the outer or middle ear. Typical causes of conductive hearing loss include ear infections, perforated eardrums, benign tumors, impacted earwax, and hereditary malformations of the ear.
This article will focus on sensorineural hearing loss as it is by far the most common.
Sensorineural hearing loss
This category of hearing loss is the most prevalent and accounts for about 90 percent of all reported hearing loss. It is the result of injury to the hair cells (the 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 the external ear, hit the eardrum, and reach the inner ear (the cochlea and hair cells) as normal. However, as a result 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 weakened.
This weakened signal is perceived as muffled or faint and normally affects speech more than other kinds of lower-pitched sounds. Additionally, unlike conductive hearing loss, sensorineural hearing loss tends to be permanent and cannot be remedied with medicine or surgery.
Causes and symptoms
Sensorineural hearing loss has multiple possible causes, including:
- Genetic disorders
- Family history of hearing loss
- Meniere’s Disease or other disorders
- Head injuries
- Benign tumors
- Direct exposure to loud noise
- The aging process (presbycusis)
The final two, exposure to loud noise and aging, represent the most widespread causes of sensorineural hearing loss, which is honestly great news as it means that the majority of cases of hearing loss can be prevented (you can’t prevent aging, of course, but you can regulate the cumulative exposure to sound over your lifetime).
To fully grasp the symptoms of sensorineural hearing loss, you should always remember that injury to the nerve cells of hearing usually develops very slowly. Therefore, the symptoms progress so gradually that it can be nearly impossible to perceive.
A slight amount of hearing loss every year will not be very noticeable to you, but after several years it will be very apparent to your friends and family. So although you may think that everyone is mumbling, it could very well be that your hearing loss is catching up to you.
Here are a few of the symptoms to look for:
- Trouble understanding speech
- Trouble following conversions, especially with more than one person
- Turning up the television and radio volume to elevated levels
- Continuously asking other people to repeat themselves
- Experiencing muffled sounds or ringing in the ears
- Becoming excessively tired at the end of the day
If you recognize any of these symptoms, or have had people tell you that you may have hearing loss, it’s best to arrange a hearing test. Hearing tests are easy and pain-free, and the sooner you treat your hearing loss the more hearing you’ll be able to retain.
Prevention and treatment
Sensorineural hearing loss is mostly preventable, which is great news since it is by far the most common type of hearing loss. Millions of instances of hearing loss in the United States could be avoided by implementing some simple precautionary measures.
Any sound above 80 decibels (the volume of city traffic inside your car) can potentially affect your hearing with prolonged exposure.
As the decibel level increases, the amount of time of safe exposure decreases. As a result, at 100 decibels (the volume of a rock concert), any exposure over 15 minutes could damage your hearing.
Here are some tips on how you can reduce the risk of hearing loss:
- Apply the 60/60 rule – when listening to a mp3 player through headphones, listen for no more than 60 minutes at no more than 60 percent of the max volume. Also think about purchasing noise-canceling headphones, as these will require lower volumes.
- Safeguard your ears at live shows – rock concerts can vary from 100-120 decibels, significantly above the limit of safe volume (you could harm 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 high-volume profession, talk with your employer about its hearing protection program.
- Protect your hearing at home – a number of household and recreational 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 substantially improve your life. Hearing aids can enhance your conversations and relationships and can prevent any additional consequences of hearing loss.
If you think you might have sensorineural hearing loss, book your quick and easy hearing test today!