What is hearing loss?
Hearing loss is defined as the reduced ability to hear sounds. It can occur at any age and can happen gradually or very suddenly. The symptoms of hearing loss may be mild, moderate or severe. Depending on the cause, hearing loss may be temporary or permanent. Read on to learn about the types of hearing loss and how they are diagnosed.
What causes hearing loss?
Hearing loss can have many causes. The part of the ear involved determines the type and cause of hearing loss.
In adults, the most common causes of hearing loss are:
- Noise: noise-induced hearing loss can happen slowly over time. Being exposed to everyday noises, such as listening to very loud music or using a lawn mower, can damage the structures of the inner ear over many years, leading to hearing loss. Sudden, loud noises, such as an explosion, can also damage your hearing.
- Age: in age-related hearing loss, changes in the inner ear that happen as you get older cause a slow but steady hearing loss. The loss may be mild or severe, but it is always permanent.
Other causes of hearing loss include:
- Earwax buildup
- An object lodged in the ear
- Injury to the ear or head
- An ear infection
- A ruptured eardrum
- Nerve damage due to a medication condition, for example, diabetes
What are the types of hearing loss?
There are two main types of hearing loss:
- Sensorineural hearing loss is caused by damage to the cochlear nerve (also known as the auditory nerve). The cochlear nerve transfers auditory information from the cochlea to the brain, which allows us to hear properly. Sensorineural hearing loss is the cause of more than 90% of hearing loss in adults. Common causes include exposure to loud noises, a family history of hearing loss, the natural aging process, or a disease that can cause nerve damage, such as diabetes.
Although it’s often not reversible, sensorineural hearing loss can be treated with hearing aids, which amplify sounds, or cochlear implants, which bypass the damaged portions of the hearing system and electrically stimulate the auditory nerve.
- Conductive hearing loss is not as common as sensorineural hearing loss. Your ear is made up of three parts – the outer, the middle, and the inner ear. Conductive hearing loss happens when sounds cannot get through the outer and middle ear. It may be hard to hear soft sounds, and louder sounds may be muffled. An accumulation of earwax or fluid buildup from an infection can cause this type of hearing loss.
How is hearing loss diagnosed?
Your regular healthcare team or a hearing specialist, called an audiologist, can do a number of tests and examinations to diagnose hearing loss, including:
- Asking about your current symptoms and your overall health history.
- Doing a physical examination of your ear with an instrument called an otoscope, which provides a clear view of the ear canal and the eardrum.
- Performing a tuning fork test, which helps your healthcare team determine which type of hearing loss you have. Tuning forks s are two-pronged, metal instruments that produce sounds when struck.
- Conducting an audiometer test. This test is usually done by an audiologist, during which you wear earphones and hear sounds and words directed to each ear. Each tone is repeated at faint levels to find the quietest sound you can hear. These tests can also be performed online.
What to do if hearing loss is suspected?
If your healthcare team suspects that you have hearing loss, they will encourage you to see an audiologist to further assess your hearing and confirm a diagnosis.
Some types of hearing loss can be treated with devices such as hearing aids or cochlear implants. These include noise-related or age-related hearing loss or hearing loss due to another medical condition such as diabetes.
In other types of hearing loss, the problem that caused the hearing loss is addressed directly, for example, removing a buildup of earwax or taking medication if you have hearing loss due to an ear infection.
If you suspect hearing loss, contact a hearing care professional at Lifestyle Hearing for a screening test.