Hearing Loss

Hearing Loss: More Prevalent than You Think

Hearing loss is the third most common health problem in the U.S., and losing your hearing rarely occurs suddenly, but it is particularly challenging because it can limit the simplest interactions between family, friends and general acquaintances, jeopardize your personal safety, and makes day-to-day living difficult. Since hearing loss usually develops over a long period of time, it is almost undetectable at first because your brain can compensate for your hearing difficulties for a long period of time. However, after so long the brain can no longer compensate for hearing loss.

Unfortunately, even once some individuals realize they have hearing loss, they do nothing about it. Simply put, being aware of your hearing loss is one thing, but acknowledging it might not be so easy. The problem is that if you wait too long, you risk serious consequences. Researchers have found that after about seven years, our brains simply lose the ability to understand certain sounds. If you wait too long to get help, even though you might be able to hear the sounds that you couldn't previously hear, your brain may not be able to correctly interpret what is being heard.

How Widespread is Hearing Loss?

To grasp how widespread hearing loss is, consider these statistics:

• Worldwide, 1 of 6 individuals has a hearing loss.
• One of every five individuals in the U.S. over the age of 12 has hearing loss.

• Almost 15% of school-age children (ages 6-19) have some degree of hearing loss.

• An estimated 50 million people in the U.S. experience tinnitus. 90% of those individuals have hearing loss.

• Hearing loss is the third most prevalent health issue in older adults after arthritis and heart disease.

• Hearing loss is the #1 disability for our returning veterans.

Are There Different Types of Hearing Loss?

Hearing loss is diagnosed based on the person's history, behavior, and the results of an audiological examination. To understand how your hearing loss occurred, you must first understand how you hear. Hearing loss is defined as one of three types:

Conductive (involves outer or middle ear)
Sensorineural (involves inner ear)
Mixed (combination of the two)

Your ear consists of three major areas: outer ear, middle ear and inner ear. Sound waves pass through the outer ear and cause vibrations at the eardrum. The eardrum and three small bones of the middle ear amplify the vibrations as they travel to the inner ear. There, the vibrations pass through fluid in a snail-shaped structure in the inner ear (cochlea). Attached to nerve cells in the cochlea are thousands of tiny hairs that help translate sound vibrations into electrical signals that are transmitted to your brain. Your brain turns these signals into sound.

What Causes Hearing Loss?

Hearing loss can be cause by several factors, such as:

Damage to the inner ear. Aging and exposure to loud noise may cause wear and tear on the hairs or nerve cells in the cochlea that send sound signals to the brain. When these hairs or nerve cells are damaged or missing, electrical signals aren't transmitted as efficiently, and hearing loss occurs. Higher pitched tones may become muffled, and it may become difficult for you to pick out words against background noise.
Gradual buildup of earwax. Earwax can block the ear canal and prevent conduction of sound waves. Earwax removal can help restore your hearing.
Ear infection and abnormal bone growths or tumors. In the outer or middle ear, any of these can cause hearing loss.
Ruptured eardrum (tympanic membrane perforation). Loud blasts of noise, sudden changes in pressure, poking your eardrum with an object and infection can cause your eardrum to rupture and affect your hearing.

Am I at Risk of Losing My Hearing?

Factors that may damage or lead to loss of the hairs and nerve cells in your inner ear include:

Heredity. Your genetic makeup may make you more susceptible to ear damage from sound or deterioration from aging.
Loud noise. Exposure to loud sounds can damage the cells of your inner ear. Damage can occur with long-term exposure to loud noises, or from a short blast of noise, such as from a gunshot.
Recreational noises. Exposure to explosive noises, such as from firearms and jet engines, can cause immediate, permanent hearing loss. Other recreational activities with dangerously high noise levels include snowmobiling, motorcycling, carpentry or listening to loud music.
Occupational noises. Jobs where loud noise is a regular part of the working environment, such as farming, construction or factory work, can lead to damage inside your ear.
Some medications. Drugs such as the antibiotic gentamicin, sildenafil (Viagra) and certain chemotherapy drugs, can damage the inner ear. Temporary effects on your hearing — ringing in the ear (tinnitus) or hearing loss — can occur if you take very high doses of aspirin, other pain relievers, antimalarial drugs or loop diuretics.
Some illnesses. Diseases or illnesses that result in high fever, such as meningitis, may damage the cochlea.
Aging. Age-related hearing loss (presbycusis) is a natural process that usually starts between the ages of 45 and 65 and can be worsened by external factors such as high noise levels. Age-related hearing loss mainly affects the higher frequencies, and usually occurs in both ears. It is caused by damage to the fine hair sensory receptor cells in the cochlea. This leads to diminished signal transmission to the auditory nerve. The first signs can be the loss of soft sounds such as the rustling of leaves or hearing your blinker in the car. Difficulty understanding speech in high background noise is also common. Because age-related hearing loss occurs gradually, people often only become aware of it as it progresses.

Can I Prevent Hearing Loss or Losing Any More of my Hearing?

Unfortunately, you can't reverse most types of hearing loss. However, you and your doctor or a hearing specialist can take steps to improve what you hear. The following steps can help you prevent noise-induced hearing loss and avoid worsening of age-related hearing loss:

Protect your ears. Limiting the duration and intensity of your exposure to noise is the best protection. In the workplace, plastic earplugs or glycerin-filled earmuffs can help protect your ears from damaging noise.
Have your hearing tested. Consider regular hearing tests if you work in a noisy environment. If you've lost some hearing, you can take steps to prevent further loss.
Avoid recreational risks. Activities such as riding a snowmobile, hunting, using power tools or listening to rock concerts can damage your hearing over time. Wearing hearing protectors or taking breaks from the noise can protect your ears. Turning down the music volume is helpful too.

What Should I Do If I Think I have Hearing Loss?

If you experience the warning signs listed below repeatedly, or in combination, they may indicate a hearing loss. If you do find yourself in one or more of the below listed categories, realize you are not alone. Contact the Atlanta Institute for ENT to schedule a comprehensive hearing examination with one of our ear, nose, and throat specialists (ENT or Otolaryngologist) to find out if you are one of the growing number of hearing loss sufferers.

1. People seem to mumble more frequently.
You hear, but have trouble understanding words.
You often ask people to repeat what they have said.
Telephone conversations are increasingly difficult.
People say that you play the TV or radio too loud.
You can't hear some common household sounds.
You have trouble understanding when your back is turned to the person speaking.
You have been told that you speak too loudly.
You experience ringing or noise in your ears.
You have difficulty understanding conversations when in large groups or crowds.

At the Atlanta Institute for ENT, our staff of compassionate and highly trained specialists stand ready to help you realize if you have hearing loss, what can be done to help you with your hearing loss, plus help you prevent further hearing loss. Contact the Atlanta Institute for ENT to schedule a confidential consultation today!

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