As of 2009, there are some 315 million people in the United States. Of those, it is estimated about 36 million have hearing loss. Although hearing loss is often associated with aging, hearing loss is clearly present in newborns, children, teenagers, young adults and adults. Healthy human ears can perceive an enormous range of sounds in terms of pitch and loudness and it is a vital link for communicating with others.
Common Causes of Hearing Loss
As we age, our ears are exposed to a lifetime of noises such as lawnmowers, telephones, industrial machinery, leaf blowers, chain saws, industrial noise, hair dryers, weapons, and recorded and live music. Many of these sounds occur at loud and potentially injurious levels. Although some people are born with hearing loss, most acquire hearing loss later in life. Causes for acquired hearing loss include a genetic predisposition, ear disease, noise exposure (including music, industrial, military and more), ototoxic medicines, head trauma, and others. Learn more about preventing hearing loss.
Do you have a hearing loss?
- Do you often feel that people are mumbling or not speaking clearly?
- Do you often misunderstand what has been said to you?
- Do you find it difficult to follow conversation in a noisy restaurant or crowded room?
- Do you experience ringing noises in your ears?
- Do you hear better with one ear than with the other?
- Have you been exposed regularly to loud noise at work, during recreation or in military service?
- Do you often ask people to speak up or repeat?
- Do people tell you that you play the TV or radio too loudly?
- Do you sometimes fail to hear your doorbell or telephone?
- Do you find it difficult to understand a speaker at a public meeting or religious service?
If you answered YES to two or more of the above questions, you may have some hearing loss. Please see your physician or an audiologist if you suspect that you or a family member may have a hearing loss.
General Types of Hearing Loss
There are three primary hearing loss categories: sensorineural, conductive, and mixed.
Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when tiny hair cells within the inner ear (the cochlea) are damaged. Sensorineural hearing loss is permanent and in most cases there are no medical or surgical treatment options. Hearing aids are the primary treatment for sensorineural hearing loss. In some situations, such as when hearing aids have not been beneficial for particular patients with severe and profound sensorineural hearing loss, these people may benefit from cochlear implantation.
The most common sensorineural hearing loss is a high-frequency hearing loss, typically associated with aging or noise exposure, and often both. High-frequency hearing loss may be difficult for patients to “self-diagnose” because it occurs slowly over decades. Persons with high-frequency sensorineural hearing loss often note they can hear, but they cannot hear clearly. They may say “people don’t speak as clearly as they used to…” These are common observations from people with high-frequency sensorineural hearing loss. The primary rehabilitative tool for these individuals is hearing aids.
Conductive hearing loss most often results from a blockage of the normal air conduction sound pathways. Conductive hearing loss may be due to ear wax (cerumen) blocking the ear canal or perhaps a foreign object may be lodged in the ear canal. Another example of a conductive hearing loss is when fluid occupies the middle ear space, as might occur with common ear infections (otitis media).
The third most common type of hearing loss is called a “mixed” hearing loss. As its name implies, it involves both sensorineural and conductive hearing loss components.
Impact of Hearing Loss
People with untreated hearing loss (people with hearing loss who do not wear hearing aids) experience a decreased quality of life. Untreated hearing loss has been shown to cause sadness, depression, anxiety, paranoia, and poor social relationships. People with untreated hearing loss may have a difficult time in their careers—often earning thousands of dollars less than their hearing peers. However, the difference in wages between people with untreated and treated hearing loss is reduced by half, when people wear hearing aids.
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