If you or a loved one are experiencing hearing loss and have yet to treat it, you are not alone. In fact, on average, people with gradual hearing loss wait almost 10 years before seeking help, wasting valuable time.
How Hearing Works
Part of successfully correcting your hearing loss is having an understanding of how our ears and brain work together to help us hear and understand speech. Here are four of the main steps that happen when we hear:
- Hearing starts when acoustic sound waves are collected by the outer ear and travel through the canal to reach the eardrum. As the acoustic sound waves stimulate the eardrum, it begins to vibrate.
- Past the eardrum is the middle ear, which is an air-filled cavity containing three tiny bones called the ossicles (which are the three smallest bones in the body). These bones are attached to the eardrum, and as sounds make the eardrum vibrate, they transfer the sound to the inner ear.
- In the inner ear you would find the cochlea. The cochlea is a snail-shaped organ which contains hair cells called cilia, responsible for creating neurological impulses that then travel through the auditory nerve.
- The auditory nerve transmits the neurological impulses to the brain via the brain stem where sound is decoded and is recognized by the person as particular sounds.
What is Hearing Loss?
Hearing loss is the inability to hear certain sounds due to our hearing mechanism not being able to properly transmit sound to our brain. It can be congenital, hereditary, noise induced, ototoxic, or age related. Depending on the type of hearing loss, it can be more noticeable for some people in the low tones and for others in the high tones. The loss can range from mild to profound and it can be permanent or temporary.
Here at Mt Hood Hearing, we strongly believe in spending time educating our patients on hearing loss in order to help them gain a clear understanding of their condition. We feel that the more educated our patients are, the higher their success rate for hearing rehabilitation.
The improved ability to hear has a tremendous impact on the quality of life for both those with hearing loss and their loved ones. Knowing your options and the available solutions, will help you make the right choice in amplification in order to use your new hearing instruments to their full potential.
How common is hearing loss and who does it affect?
Here are some general guidelines regarding the incidence of hearing loss according to the Better Hearing Institute:
- 3 in 10 people over age 60 have hearing loss
- 1 in 6 baby boomers (ages 55-75), or 22%, have a hearing problem
- 1 in 14 Generation Xers (ages 41-55), or 7.4%, already have hearing loss
- At least 1.4 million children (18 or younger) have hearing problems
- It is estimated that 3 in 1,000 infants are born with serious to profound hearing loss
Types of Hearing Loss
Causes of Hearing Loss
The main causes of hearing loss are:
- Excessive noise (Ex: Construction, Rock music, Gun shot, etc)
- Aging (Presbycusis)
- Infections (Otitis Media)
- Injury to the head or ear
- Birth defects or genetics
- Ototoxic reaction to drugs or cancer treatment (Ex: Antibiotics, Chemotherapy, Radiation)
Preventing Hearing Loss
Noise-induced hearing loss can result from a single loud noise such as a firecracker or gunshot. Hearing loss can also result from prolonged exposure to noise over a period of time. It occurs gradually and painlessly. The best way to prevent noise-induced hearing loss is to take care of your hearing by protecting your ears from loud sounds.
We should not be exposed to 85 decibels (dB) of sound for longer than eight hours a day. For every 5 dB increase in volume, the maximum recommended exposure time is cut in half.
Here are some examples of sounds represented in decibels:
- Lawnmower [90 dB]
- Snowmobile [100 dB]
- Stereo Headphones [105-110 dB]
- Car Horn [110 dB]
- Jackhammer [113 dB]
- Rock Concert [115-120 dB]
- Jet Taking Off [130 dB]
- Firearms [125-170 dB]
As you can see, there are many everyday sounds that can cause noise-induced hearing loss.
Here are some simple things you can do to protect your hearing:
- Wear earplugs when you’re exposed to loud noise at work or play.
- Pay attention to the noises around you. Turn down the volume on radios, TVs and stereos when you can. Whenever possible, leave noisy environments.
Alternate a noisy activity with a quiet one to give your ears a rest.
Consequences of Untreated Hearing Loss
People with untreated hearing loss can experience distorted and incomplete communication that negatively impacts their professional and personal lives, putting them at risk of isolation and withdrawal.
Studies have linked untreated hearing loss to:
- Avoidance or withdrawal from social situations
- Reduced alertness and increased risk to personal safety
- Impaired memory and ability to learn new tasks
- Irritability, negativism and anger
- Fatigue, tension, stress and depression
- Social rejection and loneliness
- Reduced job performance and earning power
- Diminished psychological and overall health
Multiple important studies have been conducted to better understand hearing loss and its relation to other serious health issues such as depression, dementia, diabetes, heart disease and fall rates in older adults. When someone experiences hearing loss at the same time as one of these health concerns, the term comorbidities is often used as it describes the presence of two or more chronic diseases or disorders affecting a person. Researchers have taken more interest in the relation between hearing loss and other comorbidities, as people who live with untreated hearing loss tend to face higher risks for other physical and cognitive issues.
1. Dementia prevention, intervention, and care, 2017, Livingston, Gill et al., The Lancet, Volume 390, Issue 10113, 2673-2734
2.Hearing Loss in older adults affects neural systems supporting speech comprehension, J Neurosci. 2011 Aug 31;31(35):12638-43. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2559-11.2011.
Many people are aware that their hearing has deteriorated but are reluctant to seek help. Perhaps they don’t want to acknowledge the problem, are embarrassed by what they see as a weakness, or believe that they can “get by” without using a hearing aid. And, unfortunately, too many wait years, even decades, before getting treatment. But time and time again, research demonstrates the considerable negative social, psychological, cognitive and health effects of untreated hearing loss with far-reaching implications that go well beyond hearing alone.
Hearing loss is not just an ailment of old age. It can strike at any time and any age, even childhood. For the young, even a mild or moderate case of hearing loss could bring difficulty learning, developing speech and building the important interpersonal skills necessary to foster self-esteem and succeed in school and life.