Hearing Loss Overview

Prevalence of Hearing Loss

In the United States, over 48 million Americans experience some degree of hearing loss. Although hearing loss is the third most common medical condition in the US, it is also an invisible condition and thus, it is often undertreated and undiagnosed. 

Approximately one-third of people over the age of 65 experience some degree of hearing loss. While it is common among older adults, people of all ages can experience hearing loss. In recent years, the World Health Organization has pointed to the increased risk for hearing loss among younger populations, due to the constant use of earbuds and headphones.

Causes of Hearing Loss

Noise-induced hearing loss is caused by exposure to loud sounds. Dangerously loud sounds may lead to damage of inner ear hair cells, which do not regenerate. This could happen in a one-time event (such as a fireworks or gunshots) or gradually over a long period of time (occupational hearing hazards, exposure to loud sounds such as music or machinery, etc.).

Certain classes of medications known as “ototoxic” could lead to hearing loss. Medications with high levels of ototoxicity could harm and even permanently damage inner ear hair cells. These medications range from certain classes of antibiotics to drugs used in chemotherapy treatments. It is important to follow all medications as prescribed. If you have noticed changes in your hearing, notify your physician.

Causes of Hearing loss

Types of Hearing Loss

There are three main types of hearing loss: conductive, sensorineural, and mixed.

Conductive hearing loss is often located in the outer and middle ear, which are responsible for "conducting" sound - i.e. picking up sound - and so this form of hearing loss often refers to the obstruction of sound waves entering the ear canals. Conditions that affect the ear canals or the outer ear may lead to conductive hearing loss.

Sensorineural hearing loss is mostly centralized to the inner ear and refers to complications with the inner ear hair cells. After sound waves enter the outer and middle ear, they are transformed into vibrations that make their way to the inner ear hair cells, where they are translated into neural signals to be sent to the brain to be processed as sound. With sensorineural hearing loss, the brain does not receive neural signals as with normal hearing. Forms of sensorineural hearing loss include presbycusis (age-related hearing loss which occurs due to natural causes) and noise-induced hearing loss (caused by exposure to loud sounds). This type of hearing loss can also be caused by certain medications, injury to the head or neck area, etc.

Mixed hearing loss is a combination of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss. Various parts of the ear and auditory process may be affected by mixed hearing loss.

Signs of Hearing Loss

Hearing loss symptomsHearing loss happens gradually, which means people often do not realize they are experiencing changes in their hearing. The Hearing Loss Association of America estimates that people wait an average of seven years from the time they first experience changes in their hearing to the time they decide to seek treatment. In this span of seven years, many accommodations are made to living with hearing loss.

  • People with hearing loss may struggle to make sense of speech sounds. Speech recognition is one of the main indicators of hearing loss. Many people with hearing loss voice the same complaint: "While I can hear, I cannot understand."
  • People with hearing loss may turn up the volume on their TVs and radios. People may mix up simple speech sounds, mistaking a "p" for a “b,” or a "th" for an "s".” While in conversations with multiple speakers, people with hearing loss may ask others to repeat themselves.

Hearing loss is a highly subjective experience. Depending on the degree and configuration of the hearing loss, each experience with communication and taking in sounds differs. For this reason, people benefit from taking a hearing test at the first signs of hearing loss.

Treating Hearing Loss

Hearing loss is a highly treatable condition, with the prescription of hearing aids, after a comprehensive hearing test with a trained and licensed hearing professional. Seeking treatment for hearing loss brings significant benefits to a person’s overall health and well-being.

With the use of hearing aids, people are able to reconnect to their loved ones and communicate with ease. The use of hearing aids also reduces the risk for developing dementia and other cognitive disorders. Additionally, it ensures that people are connected to the world around them, keeping them safe.

If you believe you – or a loved one – are experiencing hearing loss, contact us at Direct Hearing to schedule a hearing exam and consultation. Our caring staff takes pride in providing individualized hearing solutions in a friendly, pressure-free environment.

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