Hearing loss is the third most commonly reported physical condition, behind only arthritis and heart disease, and is one of the biggest health concerns in the country. About 20 percent of the American population experience hearing loss and it can strike people of all ages.
Noise exposure and aging are the most common causes of hearing loss.
Types of Hearing Loss
There are three distinct types of hearing loss.
Conductive hearing loss occurs when there are problems in the outer ear, ear canal, eardrum or middle ear. It can be caused by
- Ear infections.
- Fluid in the ears.
- Malformation or abnormalities of the outer or middle ear.
- Impacted earwax.
- Foreign object in the ear.
- Perforated eardrum.
- Benign tumors.
Surgery or medications (typically antibiotics) may be used to correct conductive hearing loss. Alternatively, it may be treated with hearing aids.
Sensorineural hearing loss involves a problem with the inner ear, and is frequently referred to as “nerve deafness.” It may be caused by:
- Noise exposure.
- Head trauma.
- Aging (presbycusis).
- Viral disease.
- Autoimmune ear disease.
- Meniere’s disease.
- Malformation or abnormality of the inner ear.
Sensorineural hearing loss can sometimes be treated with medications (corticosteroids) or surgery. More likely, hearing aids will be required.
Mixed hearing loss is a combination of both types. Treatment might involve a combination of medication, surgery and/or hearing aids.
Hearing loss is a progressive condition that worsens over time. Symptoms appear gradually so many are completely unaware they are losing their hearing for some time. Even when hearing loss is suspected, it takes an average of seven years for a person to seek medical treatment.
Knowing the signs is helpful in spurring you to take action sooner. Below are the most common signs you may have hearing loss:
- Frequently asking people to repeat what they have said.
- Feeling like others mumble when they speak.
- Having difficulty following conversations in which background noise is present.
- Turning up the volume on the television or radio.
- Avoiding social gatherings in noisy places.
Often, a family member or friend will be the first to notice a hearing problem. Since treatment is most effective when begun early, if you think you might be suffering from diminished hearing, do not hesitate to schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist. The sooner, the better!
In order to treat your hearing loss, your audiologist will need to determine the exact cause. To do so, they will review your medical history, discuss your symptoms, and give you a physical examination followed by a hearing evaluation consisting of a series of audiological tests.
Hearing Loss Prevention
One way to treat hearing loss is to prevent it from occurring.
If your job exposes you to hazardous noises, make sure proper safety equipment is provided, and that it meets state and federal regulations. Hearing protection – earplugs and earmuffs – is essential when working around loud equipment. It’s always a good idea to bring along earplugs if you’re participating in a noisy recreational activity (e.g., a football game or rock concert), as well.
At home, limit your exposure to noisy activities, and keep the volume down – on the television, stereo and especially when it comes to personal listening devices like MP3 players. Prevent other types of hearing loss by refraining from inserting cotton swabs or other objects into your ears, blowing your nose gently through both nostrils and quitting smoking. Studies show those who use tobacco are more likely to suffer from hearing loss.
Regardless of your age, have your hearing tested regularly. Early detection is key. While hearing loss can’t be reversed, you can still take steps to avoid further damage to your hearing.
Call Ear, Nose and Throat, LTD at (757) 623-0526 for more information or to schedule an appointment.