Hearing Loss

Hearing loss is one of the biggest health concerns in the U.S. It is the third most commonly reported physical condition, following arthritis and heart disease. It affects roughly 20 percent of the American population and can strike people of all ages.

The most common causes of hearing loss are noise exposure and aging.

What are the symptoms of Hearing Loss?

Hearing loss is typically a progressive condition that worsens over time. Symptoms appear so gradually, you may be completely unaware of the loss for some time. Even when hearing loss is suspected, it takes an average of seven years for a person to seek medical treatment.

Knowing the signs is helpful in spurring you to take action sooner.

What Are the Types of Hearing Loss?

Treatment will depend on your type and degree of hearing loss.

Sensorineural hearing loss involves a problem with the inner ear, and is frequently referred to as “nerve deafness.”

Causes of sensorineural hearing loss

  • Noise exposure.

  • Hereditary and genetic conditions.

  • Head trauma.

  • Aging (presbycusis).

  • Viral disease.

  • Autoimmune disorders of the ear. 

  • Meniere’s disease.

  • Malformation or abnormality of the inner ear.

  • Otosclerosis.

  • Tumors.

  • Uncontrolled diabetes. 

Sensorineural hearing loss can sometimes be treated with medication (corticosteroids) or surgery. However, this type of loss is most frequently treated with hearing aids.

Conductive hearing loss occurs when there are problems in the outer ear, ear canal, eardrum or middle ear.

Causes of conductive hearing loss

  • Ear infection.

  • Fluid in the ears.

  • Malformation or abnormalities of the outer or middle ear.

  • Impacted earwax.

  • Foreign object in the ear.

  • Allergies.

  • Perforated eardrum.

  • Otosclerosis.

  • Benign tumors.

Conductive hearing loss is often correctable with surgery or medication (typically antibiotics). It is important to see an otolaryngologist (ENT) when any of the above are present.

Mixed hearing loss is a combination of both types. Treatment might involve a combination of medication, surgery and/or hearing aids.

In addition to the different types of hearing loss, it is important to consider the extent to which a patient is experiencing symptoms. Hearing loss is further categorized as being either monaural or binaural.

Unilateral hearing loss affects one ear only, while bilateral hearing loss affects both ears.

Patients with unilateral hearing loss have normal hearing in one ear and impaired hearing in the other; they have difficulty hearing on one side and localizing sound. Individuals with bilateral hearing loss have impaired hearing in both ears. The condition is most often treated with hearing aids (two are more effective than one) or cochlear implants. A majority of hearing loss is bilateral. 

extended family having a picnic

Any of the following might indicate hearing loss:

  • Frequently asking people to repeat what they have said.

  • Feeling like others mumble when they speak.

  • Having difficulty following conversations in which background noise is present.

  • Turning up the volume on the television or radio.

  • Avoiding social gatherings in noisy places.

Often, a family member or friend will be the first to notice a hearing problem. Since treatment is most effective when begun early, if you think you might have diminished hearing, do not hesitate to schedule an appointment with an audiologist. The sooner, the better!

How Is Hearing Loss Diagnosed?

In order to diagnose hearing loss, your doctor will review your medical history, discuss your symptoms, and give you a physical examination followed by a hearing evaluation consisting of a series of audiological tests.

Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

noise levels chart

Noise-induced hearing loss is the most common type experienced by younger individuals. It can be caused by exposure to a single loud sound, such as a gunshot or explosion, or by continuous exposure to loud noise over a period of time. Other groups that can be affected by loud noise are those in the military and industrial workers.

When are noises loud enough to damage hearing?

When sounds exceed 85 decibels (dB) they are considered hazardous to your hearing health. The louder the noise, and/or the longer the exposure, the more likely that noise will cause hearing loss. Continuous exposure to volume levels that high causes permanent damage to the nerve cells in your ears.

Activities that put people at risk for noise-induced hearing loss include hunting, riding a motorcycle, listening to music at high volumes, playing in a band and attending rock concerts. An estimated 15 percent of Americans aged 20 to 69 have hearing loss that may have been caused by noise exposure. This type of hearing loss can be prevented by wearing earplugs and protective devices.

Hearing Loss Prevention

Protecting your ears is the key to hearing loss prevention and conditions like tinnitus. If your job exposes you to hazardous noises, make sure proper safety equipment is provided, and that it meets state and federal regulations. Hearing protection – earplugs and earmuffs – is essential when working around loud equipment. It’s always a good idea to bring along earplugs if you’re participating in a noisy recreational activity (e.g., a football game or rock concert).

How can you prevent hearing loss?

At home, limit your exposure to noisy activities, and keep the volume down – on the television, stereo and especially when it comes to personal listening devices like MP3 players or smartphones.

Prevent other types of hearing loss by refraining from inserting cotton swabs or other objects into your ears, blowing your nose gently through both nostrils and quitting smoking. Studies show those who use tobacco are more likely to suffer from hearing loss.

Regardless of your age, have your hearing tested regularly. Early detection is key. While noise-related hearing loss can’t be reversed, you can still take steps to avoid further damage to your hearing.

protect your ears sign

Contact Big Sky Audiology Clinic at (406) 656-2003 for more information or to Schedule an Appointment

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