Hearing loss caused due to aging is known as presbycusis and is a common part of the aging process. Around one-third of the population aged between 65 and 75 suffers from some degree of hearing loss. For people who are older than 75 years, the condition becomes more frequent and affects every one in two people.
Depending on the part of the ear it affects, hearing loss is divided into three types which are:
The most common causes of hearing loss are aging and exposure of the ears to loud noises frequently. There are several other factors that are responsible for causing hearing loss and these include having earwax is excessive amounts.
Most types of hearing loss cannot be cured or reversed. However, with the help of your doctor, you can work on some ways to manage the condition and improve your hearing abilities.
Symptoms and degrees of hearing loss
In most cases, hearing loss occurs gradually. Thus, it can be difficult for an individual to notice the changes with their hearing. You might feel that people are not speaking clearly or your phone does not function properly. As far as you are able to hear sounds, you don’t feel there is anything wrong with your hearing. But as the condition will progress, the sounds and speeches will keep fading more and more.
There are various levels of hearing loss classified by the doctors. These are:
- Mild hearing loss
In these cases, the person is able to hear conversations that are done one-on-one. However, if there is some noise in the background, hearing the other person might not be easy for people with mild hearing loss.
- Moderate hearing loss
In such cases, people ask the person speaking to repeat themselves while talking in person as well as over the phone.
- Severe hearing loss
Hearing speech is not possible in such cases without help from a hearing aid.
- Profound hearing loss
In such cases, people are not able to hear any part of the speech unless the speaker is too loud. A cochlear plant or a hearing aid is essential in such cases to understand what the person is saying.
Some of the symptoms of hearing loss are:
- Problem with hearing when multiple people speak together
- Feeling that other people are either mumbling or not speaking properly
- Frequently misunderstanding what the other person is saying and giving inaccurate responses
- Watching TV on high volume
- Ringing, hissing, or roaring sounds in the ears. This is referred to as tinnitus
- Not able to hear consonants properly
- Withdrawing from conversations
- Avoiding social gatherings
What causes hearing loss?
To understand the causes of hearing loss, it is first important to understand how humans hear. Our ears consist of three major parts: the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear. The sound waves first hit the outer ear and produce vibrations on the eardrum. There are three bones located at the middle ear which, along with the eardrum, amplify these vibrations when they travel from this part to the inner ear. When the waves reach the inner ear, they pass through a fluid that is in a structure that is in the shape of a snail. This is known as the cochlea. The nerve cells which are attached to the cochlea have many small hairs which help on converting the vibrations to electrical signals. These signals are then sent to the brain and there these signals are converted into sounds.
So, how does hearing loss occur? There are various causes that can interfere with the entire process of hearing and lead to hearing loss.
These can include:
- Inner ear damage
As the body ages, there can be wear and tear caused to the nerve cells or the tiny hairs found in the cochlea. The damage can also be caused by exposure to loud noises frequently. Any damage to the nerve cells or the hairs can prevent efficient transmission of electrical signals to the brain and hence, can lead to hearing loss.
- Earwax build-up
When there is a build-up of earwax in excess, it can block the ear canal and interfere with the sound waves when they travel from one part of the ear to the other. If the cause of hearing loss is this build-up of earwax, it can be treated and reversed by removing the earwax.
- Infection in the ear or unusual growth of tumors or bone
Any such abnormal growth or ear infection affecting the middle of the outer part of the ear can lead to hearing loss.
- Eardrum rupture
Also known as tympanic membrane perforation, a rupture to the eardrum can be caused due to exposure to loud noises that blast in your ears, any changes in the pressure, or using an object to poke the eardrum. Any of these can cause damage to the eardrum and eventually lead to hearing loss.
Who is at risk?
There are various factors that can increase the risk of hearing loss by causing damage to the nerve cells or the hairs in the inner part of the ear. These include:
As the body ages, there is a degeneration that takes place in the structure of the ear. This degeneration takes place gradually over a period over time.
- Exposure to noises that can be damaging for the ear
When the ears are exposed to loud noises, it can cause damage to the inner part of the ear. This damage can be a result of exposure to loud noises for an extended period or a strong blast of noise which can last for a short period.
The genes a person carries from his parents, play a crucial role in the development of hearing loss. If it is hereditary, it can make a person more prone to hearing loss due to aging.
- Occupational hazards
People enrolled in jobs that expose them to loud noises every day can cause damage to the ears. These jobs include construction work at sites and farming.
- Exposure to recreational noises
These noises can be severely damaging for the ears. Sounds produced by engines of the jets or firearms can be extremely harmful to the ears. Some other activities that expose a person to these noises include motorcycling, snowmobiling, and carpentry.
- Certain medications
There are certain medications, such as the ones used in chemotherapy that can cause damage to the inner ear. Taking these medicines can have temporary effects on a person’s hearing and it can cause tinnitus or even hearing loss, if taken in high doses.
- Certain conditions
There are some diseases such as meningitis that can cause a high fever. These conditions can cause severe damage to the cochlea and hence, lead to hearing loss.
How is hearing loss diagnosed?
There are several tests that can be used to diagnose hearing loss. These include the following:
- Physical examination
During the exam, the doctor will check the ear and look for causes of hearing loss which can include earwax deposits or any inflammation caused due to an ear infection. Any structural causes for hearing loss can also be checked during the physical exam.
- Screening tests
To check for any hearing loss, the doctor will conduct a whisper test. They will ask the patient to cover their one ear and will see how well the patient responds to different words spoken while using different volumes. The response of the patient will be checked to determine any loss of hearing. However, the test might not provide completely accurate results.
- Hearing tests on apps
There are several apps available on our mobiles that let us test ourselves for any moderate hearing loss. These apps can be used on mobile phones as well as on tablets.
- Tests using tuning forks
These are metal instruments that create sounds when they hit each other. It is a simple test conducted while using tuning forks to detect any hearing loss. With the help of this test, the doctor can also determine the part of the ear where the damage has occurred.
- Audiometer tests
These are more accurate tests and are conducted by an audiologist. During the test, the patient is asked to put on earphones and listen to various words and sounds that are thrown towards each ear. Every sound is played several times at various sound levels to check the quietest sound that a person can hear.
How can hearing loss be treated?
Although in most cases, hearing loss cannot be reversed, with some medical help, the condition can be managed. The treatment options provided to patients depend on the severity and the cause of hearing loss. The various treatments available are:
- Removal of wax
If hearing loss is being caused by earwax blockage, it can be treated and reversed. The treatment will involve the removal of the earwax with the help of a small tool that has a loop at its end or with suction.
If the hearing loss is caused due to abnormalities in the eardrum, it can be treated through surgical procedures. If ear infection occurs frequently with fluid, small tubes will be inserted into the ear to help it drain the fluid.
- Hearing aids
In cases where the hearing loss is caused due to inner ear damage, hearing aids can prove to be beneficial. If you require a hearing aid, your doctor will discuss the benefits of the device to make you more familiar with the treatment option.
There are multiple benefits of hearing aids which you should be aware of before you get one. These include:
- Improved earning capacity
That might sound surprising, but research by an institute has shown that when hearing loss is left untreated, it can make the annual earnings of many people go down by $30,000. The research also found that people who had their hearing problems corrected were able to lower the risk of losing their earnings by as much as 90 percent in people with mild loss of hearing and about 77 percent in people with hearing loss ranging between moderate to severe.
- Reduced tinnitus
Damage to the ear can cause an annoying ringing sensation in the ear. This is called tinnitus and it has been reported to affect over 50 million people in the country. Using hearing aids that have been professionally fitted has been linked with reduced occurrence of the annoying high-pitched ringing sound in the ear. Therefore, hearing aids can prove to be extremely beneficial in reducing the sound as well as the stress that it causes.
- Better lifestyle
It has been confirmed through studies that people who choose to use hearing aids to improve their hearing problems are able to enjoy a better quality of life than people who choose to leave it untreated. There is a wide range of hearing aid options that one can manage with the help of a smartphone. Thus, hearing aids do not require a separate setup to be operated.
Types of hearing aids
Which hearing aid works best for an individual depends on different factors. These factors are:
- Type of hearing loss and its severity
- Age of the individual
- The ability to manage small devices
- Cost factor
The two main types of hearing aids are:
- Analog hearing aids
They function by converting sound waves into electric signals. This allows them to be louder. They are not very expensive, and they can also be operated very easily as they do not have an extensive volume mechanism. These have been in existence for a longer duration.
- Digital hearing aids
Sound waves are first converted into numeric codes and then amplified. They help a person understand the pitch of a sound wave and the direction from which it is coming. Thus, an individual can easily adjust the sound to what is comfortable depending on whether he is in a café, library, or home. The results are better than analog hearing aids but these also cost more. These are small and can be carried around easily without must hassles.