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A loss of hearing can severely impact your quality of life. For many of us, a loss of hearing makes us frustrated, angry, and depressed. We know we miss out on conversation bits, but we find ourselves somewhat embarrassed at constantly saying, “What did you say?” If that loss of hearing is just beginning, and even slight, you might not even realize it’s occurring.
Signs you may be experiencing a loss of hearing include:
- Battling tinnitus and/or Meniere’s disease (noise in your ears, like ringing or buzzing)
- Battling throat cancer
- Becoming stressed trying to understand what someone is saying
- Being asked to turn down the TV sound or wanting it turned up
- Difficulty differentiating between consonants, such as dog vs. bog
- Feeling uncomfortable in social settings where there’s a lot of noise
- Perceiving sound as muffled
- Taking part in a conversation but missing some of the words
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Types of Hearing Loss
There are three main kinds of hearing loss:
- Sensorineural hearing loss. This is the most common (90 percent of people), and it is permanent. It’s caused by damage to the tiny hair-like cells in the inner ear or to the auditory nerve. Earinfo.com says the most common causes include age-related changes, noise exposure, inner-ear blood circulation, inner-ear fluid circulation, inner-ear fluid disturbances, and problems with the hearing nerve.
- Conductive hearing loss. This is caused by a mechanical problem in the outer or middle ear or an obstruction in the ear canal that blocks sound. It can be permanent, but it’s usually temporary and can be treated. If you have this loss, says Earinfo.com, you may feel like your ears are plugged. And they may be, as ear wax and ear fluid are among the common causes. Your own voice and eating crunchy foods may seem very loud to you, if you have this type of hearing loss.
- Mixed hearing loss. This is a combination of sensorineural and conductive loss.
Measure Those Decibels
There are sound-level meter free apps on most phones. You can use the app to measure noise in the area. A reading higher than 85 decibels (dB) is only acceptable for a very short time, cautions the CDC. “The effect of lower volumes listened to over long periods is the same as that of louder sounds heard over a short period. For example, noise exposure at 85 dB for 8 hours is equivalent to exposure to 88 dB for 4 hours and 91 dB for 2 hours. At 100 dB, however, the safe duration of exposure would only be 15 minutes a day,” they state. Apps include the Sound Meter, Decibel Meter, and Sound Meter & Noise Detector.
Causes of Loss of Hearing
Most hearing loss occurs gradually, and many of the causes may seem like results of wear-and-tear on your ears. And it is. Most experts will tell you to wear protective hearing headphones (the ones advertised as “noise cancelling” are best) when you absolutely have to be near loud noises and avoid loud noises as much as possible.
Causes for loss of hearing include:
- Abnormal bone growth in the ear
- Drugs (gentamicin, chemotherapy drugs, pain relievers)
- Gas-powered equipment, like lawnmowers and leaf blowers
- Head injury
- Hematoma or fluid in the ear
- Illness, such as mumps
- Loud concerts or sports events
- Loud music from digital music players and phones
- Physical damage to the ear (inner ear, earwax buildup, infections, ruptured ear drum)
- Tumor in the ear
- Using headphones or ear buds set at too high a volume
Hormones may play a factor as well, at least for women. The North American Menopause Society (NAMS) reports that after reviewing self-reported hearing loss in 80,972 women involved in the Nurses’ Health Study II, researchers found that the use of oral hormone therapy in postmenopausal women was associated with an even higher risk of hearing loss, although the reason why is not clear.
Loss of Hearing Is Widespread
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) aging is the primary cause of loss of hearing, followed by noise exposure. It’s estimated that 40 million American adults have a loss of hearing due to noise exposure. Amazingly, the CDC states says about 25 percent of adults who think they have good hearing have hearing damage.
You may need to be persistent to get a reliable diagnosis of loss of hearing at your auditory exam. Traditional clinical hearing tests often fail to diagnose patients with a common form of inner-ear damage that might otherwise be detected by more challenging behavioral tests, according to the findings of a State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo study published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience.
A reason some loss of hearing goes undetected in an auditory exam is due to the relationship between the ear and the brain. Basically, the central auditory system compensates for significant damage to the inner ear by turning up its volume control, partially overcoming the deficiency, explains Richard Salvi, SUNY Buffalo’s Center for Hearing and Deafness, and the study’s lead author.
“You can have tremendous damage to inner hair cells in the ear that transmit information to the brain and still have a normal audiogram,” says Salvi. “But people with this type of damage have difficulty hearing in certain situations, like hearing speech in a noisy room. Their thresholds appear normal. So they’re sent home.”
For further reading, please visit our post “Hearing Aids, Find the Right Ones for Your Ears.”