Today, over 1.5 billion people in the world have hearing loss, which is almost 20% of the global population. This means that in a group of five friends, it’s likely that at least one of you has hearing problems.
Some are lucky enough to have negligible hearing loss, while others struggle with everyday life because they’ve lost much of their auditory function. And if you’re not careful, your perfect hearing can decline too.
Here, the phrase “knowledge is power” has never been truer. So read on to see the symptoms of hearing loss, what the causes may be, and what available treatments there are.
Table of Contents
Symptoms of Hearing Loss
One common symptom of hearing loss is that you can hear things, but feel like you can’t understand them. Also, pinpointing where sounds are coming from can be hard.
You might find it difficult to understand speech, especially when you’re in a noisy environment. It can be challenging to hear people on the phone too, and in everyday conversations, you’re often asking people to repeat themselves.
Some people might also be affected by listening fatigue. This is where you feel exhausted after social events, as you have to constantly strive to hear and understand people. This might affect you so much that you start avoiding social situations.
Hearing loss is often accompanied by tinnitus, which is a ringing sound in your ears. At times, sounds can seem too loud and overwhelming too.
Another tell-tale sign of hearing loss is that your loved ones are saying you crank up the TV or radio too much.
Other symptoms will depend on what type of hearing loss you have. For example, sounds may be muffled with conductive hearing loss (more on this later).
Hearing Loss Causes
There are three types of hearing loss: conductive, sensorineural, and mixed. As you might’ve already guessed, the causes for hearing impairment vary between these.
Conductive Hearing Loss
Conductive hearing loss happens when you experience issues in the outer or middle ear. As a result, sounds can’t travel to the inner ear, and sounds will seem faint or muffled.
There are several things that can cause this type of hearing loss; something as innocent as wax buildup can be the culprit. However, fluid in the middle ear can cause issues, as well as infections in the ear canal or middle ear.
If you have perforations or scarring of the eardrum, or growths or tumors in your ear, these can cause conductive hearing loss too. Abnormal bone growth in the middle ear (otosclerosis) is also a cause.
Conductive hearing loss can be temporary or permanent, so you can possibly reverse problems here.
Sensorineural Hearing Loss
Sensorineural hearing loss happens when your ear nerves are damaged. Because these nerves can’t transmit audio signals to your brain, you’ll feel like you can hear, but not understand people’s words.
This type of hearing loss occurs naturally with age, as our inner ear nerves and sensory cells die off slowly. It can also happen because of diseases like viral infections, diabetes, meningitis, and Meniere’s disease.
In addition, sensorineural hearing loss can occur with injury, exposure to loud noises, high fevers, and strokes. For some, it’s heredity or a result of acoustic tumors. And if you’ve taken ototoxic drugs, a side effect can be hearing loss.
Unfortunately, sensorineural hearing loss is permanent. However, there are some ways to minimize symptoms to better your quality of life.
Mixed Hearing Loss
Mixed hearing loss is a combination of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss. The causes can be from anything in the above lists.
Because the causes result in two different types of hearing loss, each type must be addressed separately.
Treatments for Hearing Loss
Now you know more about the types of hearing loss and their causes. So what treatments are available for each?
Conductive Hearing Loss Treatments
The treatments used here will depend on what caused your hearing issues in the first place. For example, if you can’t hear because of wax buildup, then your doctor can simply suction the wax out and flush your ear with warm water. Otherwise, your doctor may prescribe medications or even suggest surgery to fix things like tumors and cysts.
You can also get hearing aids. For instance, bone conduction devices are extremely helpful in restoring hearing function.
Sensorineural Hearing Loss Treatments
The main treatment for sensorineural hearing loss is hearing aids. Because there’s no way to reverse the impairment, the best option is to boost hearing instead.
In more serious cases, you might need cochlear implants. These can provide auditory information to people who are severely hard of hearing. Hearing through these implants is different from normal hearing, so you’ll have to relearn auditory cues and whatnot.
Mixed Hearing Loss Treatments
Your doctor will put together a personalized treatment plan based on how severe each type of hearing loss is for you. But generally, you’ll receive hearing aids. The most commonly used treatment is behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids to mitigate more serious cases of sensorineural hearing loss.
How to Prevent Hearing Loss
Considering that some types of hearing loss are irreversible, it’s vital that you’re proactive in protecting your ears.
This doesn’t necessarily mean skipping out on your favorite bands’ concerts either. Instead, you should wear either earplugs or earmuffs to reduce the damage done to your sensitive ears. Also, try to limit your exposure to loud events and environments; be picky about which ones you go to.
When using loud things like power tools, toys, and electronic devices, use the lowest volume possible. This goes for when you use earbuds too, as they go right into your ears.
If you feel ill, go see the doctor ASAP. It’s better to be safe than to be sorry, and sometimes, time is of the essence to receive effective medications that have you feeling better in no time. Discuss your options thoroughly and weigh up the pros and cons if you need to take ototoxic drugs.
For those with kids, it’s optimal to start them young. Not only does this give them the best chances, but it also sets them up for good habits for the rest of their lives.
What to Do if You Think You Have Hearing Loss
If you think you have hearing loss, you should visit your local audiologist. They have the skills, equipment, and tests to see if you indeed have a hearing impairment.
What’s good about this option is that you’re already at a specialist’s office. After they determine what kind of hearing loss you have, they can fit you with the right hearing devices.
However, while most audiologists have doctorates in audiology, they aren’t medical doctors. So if you have any health issues causing your hearing problems, such as diabetes or a viral infection, they can’t help you there.
See Your Doctor
A general practitioner can perform a physical exam to determine what’s blocking your hearing. In many cases, they can tell right away if you have earwax or growths blocking your ear, or if you’re suffering from an infection that’s making your ear inflamed.
If it’s not any of these things, then they might perform some general screening tests. For instance, there’s the whisper test, which is where they’ll whisper things while you cover each ear separately with your hand. This isn’t a super accurate test, but it’s an excellent preliminary one.
See an Otolaryngologist
These doctors are also known as ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialists. Your doctor might refer you to one if they think your hearing issues are more complicated.
Not only can an otolaryngologist prescribe medications, but they can also perform surgery if needed. These may be the procedures you need to restore your hearing completely again, so vet your options carefully to get the best in the field.
Take Good Care of Your Hearing
Now you know the symptoms of hearing loss, as well as what causes these issues and how to fix or mitigate them.
The important thing is that you take good care of your ears, starting today. Considering that damage can’t be reversed, only slowed down, it’s best to be overprotective of your hearing rather than take chances. Otherwise, you might be giving up those beautiful sounds you hear daily sooner than you think.
Also, if you have children, it’s great to start them on hearing protection early. Together, you can have quality hearing for years to come.
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