An Invisible Problem
Hearing loss is one of the most common health problems in this country (along with arthritis and hypertension). However, hearing loss may be the most undetected and untreated problems in adults, and the person with the hearing problem is often the last one to become aware of it. As a result, many people delay getting help for several years, even when family, friends and co-workers are aware of the hearing difficulties.
Understanding four common characteristics of hearing loss may explain why it often goes undetected.
- Gradual hearing loss. It can develop so slowly that you are not aware of any change from year to year. A loss of one decibel of hearing each year is not noticeable, but 10 or 20 years of gradual loss can lead to a very significant–but unnoticed–hearing problem.
- Partial hearing loss. You can develop a hearing loss for sounds in the speech clarity range, but still have normal hearing sensitivity for many of the sounds around you. That’s why someone with early stage hearing loss may say, “I can hear people talking…I just can’t understand them.”
- Hearing loss is painless. Although tinnitus (a ringing or buzzing sound in the ear) may accompany hearing loss, usually there is no feeling or sensation that alerts you to a change in hearing.
- Hearing loss is invisible. You cannot detect hearing loss by looking in someone’s ears. Only an audiologic evaluation can determine whether a hearing loss is present.
Because of these characteristics, it is understandable that someone in the early stages of hearing loss often believes there is no problem, despite what family and friends say. Unfortunately, the person may then put off getting help for several years.
If you think you know someone who has an undetected hearing loss, please ask him or her to read this article. The first step is not to get hearing aids, but simply to have an audiologic evaluation.
Hearing Loss in Adults
Common signs of hearing loss include:
- Frequently asking people to repeat themselves?
- Feeling that people mumble or fail to speak clearly?
- Turning up the volume on your tv or radio louder than others prefer?
- Avoiding social situations?
- Feeling anxious going to a social engagement because of possible communication difficulty?
- Having difficulty following conversations in a room with background noise?
- Often misunderstanding what people say?
These problems affect everyone at one time or another. However, if you or others are noticing that you are having frequent difficulties, you may have a hearing loss. Any concerns about hearing should be addressed with a comprehensive audiologic examination by a Doctor of Audiology.
How We Hear
Better understanding of hearing and hearing loss begins by understanding how we hear.
Sound waves are collected by the outer ear and channeled along the ear canal to the eardrum. When sound hits the eardrum, the impact creates vibrations which, in turn, cause three bones in the middle ear to move. The smallest of these bones, the stapes, fits into the oval window between the middle and inner ear. When the oval window vibrates, fluid in the inner ear transmits the vibrations into the hearing organ, called the cochlea.
In the inner ear, thousands of microscopic hair cells are bent by the wave-like action of fluid inside the cochlea. The bending of these hairs sets off nerve impulses which are then passed through the auditory nerve to the hearing center of the brain. This center translates the impulses into sounds the brain can recognize.
The information provided here is general in nature. If you need further information, please consult your local Audiologist.
Types of Hearing Loss
There are three types of hearing loss: conductive, sensorineural, and mixed.
A conductive hearing loss occurs when sound is not conducted efficiently through the ear canal, eardrum or middle ear.
A sensorineural hearing loss occurs when there is damage to the inner ear or auditory nerve.
Damage can be caused by:
- The natural aging process
- Exposure to loud or constant noise
- Ototoxic medications
- Illness or birth defects
- Traumatic injury
A sensorineural hearing loss is typically a permanent type of hearing loss that usually can be helped with hearing aids.
A mixed hearing loss occurs when someone has a combination of a sensorineural hearing loss and a conductive hearing loss.
How to Protect Your Hearing
In today’s technologically advanced world, hazardous noise levels have become part of our daily life. Off the job, our hearing is assaulted by noise from traffic, construction and lawnmowers.
On the job, noise is generated by office or industrial equipment, machinery and power tools. Even recreational activities such as hunting, snowmobiling and listening to loud music can affect your hearing.
Protect your hearing because it is irreplaceable. Avoid harmful noise levels. If you have to shout to be heard or if speech sounds muffled after leaving a noisy area, then the level is too high. It is recommended that hearing protection be worn in noisy situations at home and on the job. Earplugs or earmuffs are available from your Audiologist and provide good protection.
If you are exposed to loud noise levels, have your hearing checked annually by an Audiologist.
Testing for Hearing Loss
If a hearing loss is suspected, then you should see an Audiologist. A hearing test consists of responding when you hear different frequencies presented at different volume levels. This test will produce a profile of your hearing, called an audiogram. The Audiologist will use the audiogram to determine the type and severity of your hearing loss. The Audiologist will also assess the outer and middle ear and determine whether the hearing loss is best treated medically or with hearing aids.
It is recommended that people over fifty years of age get their hearing checked regularly.
For further information, contact us at Brampton Audiology.