Hearing loss is the third most common medical condition people live with today. Impacting over 48 million people, hearing loss is a pervasive health issue. With nearly 1 in 6 people having impared hearing, you likely know someone with hearing loss. This medical condition reduces capacity to hear and process sound which produces a range of symptoms that strain communication. Not only does hearing loss take a toll on communication but it also affects relationships, social life, and health in a variety of ways.
Most acquired hearing loss that people experience today is sensorineural. This is a type of permanent hearing loss which leads to chronic hearing loss. Sensorineural hearing loss occurs in the inner ear and results from damaged hair cells. Several factors can damage these cells including the following common causes of hearing loss:
- Aging: the risk of developing age related hearing loss (also known as presbycusis) increases with age. This is due to the collective impact of noise exposure over time, medical conditions that older adults are also disporopratenyl impacted by, as well as changes to the ear.
- Noise exposure: one time or consistent exposure to loud noise can damage the hair cells in the inner ear. Over 22 million people are exposed to hazardous noise levels in the workplace annually and nearly 1 billion are at high risk of developing hearing loss due to loud noise exposure from audio as well as social settings.
- Medical conditions: substantial research shows that several medical conditions increase the risk of hearing loss. This includes hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. These conditions impact blood flow throughout the body including the ears. The ears require adequate blood and oxygen supply to properly absorb and process sound.
Other causes include inner ear disorders, head injuries, certain medications, and autoimmune conditions. There are thousands of hair cells in the cochlea (housed in the inner ear) which play an important role in how sound is absorbed and processed. Sensory cells in the inner ear convert incoming sound waves into electrical signals which get carried to the brain. The brain is then able to further process and assign meaning to these signals which is how we are able to understand what we hear.
Unlike other types of cells we have, hair cells in the inner ear do not regenerate. There are also no ways to replenish or repair these cells once they’ve experienced damage. This means that when they become desensitized and/or die, this damage is permanent, resulting in chronic hearing loss.
Acquired hearing loss produces a myriad of symptoms which strains communication. Common symptoms include the following:
- Tinnitus: a ringing, buzzing, or clicking like noise in one or both ears.
- Sounds are muffled or distorted.
- Increasing the volume on electronic devices like the TV or phone.
- Frequently asking others to repeat themselves, speak louder, and/or slower.
- Struggling to follow conversations, missing words or parts of what others are saying.
- Finding yourself saying “huh” or “what” in response to others.
- Being able to hear more clearly out of one ear compared to the other.
- Needing to go to a quieter space to hear more clearly.
- Lip reading to help identify individual words.
- Feeling fatigued after conversations and social interactions.
Symptoms can range from mild to severe depending on the degree of hearing loss present. These symptoms often lead to social withdrawal and strained relationships .This contributes to depressive symptoms as well as increases health risks; highlighting the importance of seeking treatment as early as possible.
Fortuenaly, there are effective ways that hearing loss is treated. There is a wide range of services, resources, adn technologies available to support hearing health. The first step is to schedule an appointment for a hearing test. Conducted by a hearing healthcare specialist, hearing tests comprehensively assess hearing capacities in each heart. This identifies hearing loss as well as the degree of hearing loss a person is experiencing.
The most common way hearing loss is treated is with hearing aids. These electronic devices are prescribed by a hearing healthcare specialist and are equipped with the technology that helps absorb and process sound. Hearing aids provide the ears and brain with ample support, alleviating hearing loss symptoms and increasing capacity to hear. This offers countless benefits including strengthening communication, relationships, social life, and boosting health as well as wellness.