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Hearing loss is more common than you may think. One in five Americans has some degree of hearing loss. For those over the age of 65, that figure increases to one in three people. In order to best treat hearing loss, we must first understand it.

Before we can understand how we lose our hearing... let’s first understand how we are able to hear in the first place:

  1. Hearing begins when sound waves enter the outer ear (the visible portion of the ear) and move down the ear canal.
  2. At the end of the canal lies the eardrum. When sound waves hit the eardrum, a chain reaction of vibrations between various parts of the middle ear are eventually transmitted to the inner ear.
  3. The inner ear houses the cochlea (the snail shaped hearing organ) and the hearing nerve. The sound vibrations reach the cochlea, which is filled with thousands of tiny hair cells.
  4. These hair cells change the vibrations into electrical signals that are sent by the hearing nerve to the brain.
  5. The brain processes and interprets those signals into meaning, allowing us to understand speech and hear the sounds around us.

Signs of Hearing Loss

These are common signs of hearing loss according to The Better Hearing Institute:

Listening

  • Asking people to repeat frequently
  • Having trouble following conversation that involves more than two people
  • Believing that others are mumbling
  • Having difficulty hearing in noise
  • Answering incorrectly or responding inappropriately during conversations

Frustrations

  • Others complaining that you need the TV/radio turned up very loud
  • Being annoyed because you cannot hear or understand people
  • Withdrawing from social activities that you once enjoyed
    because of difficulty hearing

If any of the above statements make you say “yes, that’s me”, then chances are you have some amount of hearing loss. Unfortunately, only about 20% of those who need hearing aids are admitting they need help. Treating hearing loss early however will dramatically improve your social, emotional and physical well-being.

Types of Hearing Loss

There are two main types of hearing loss: sensorineural and conductive.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss

This is the most common form of hearing loss that we see here at our clinic, and unfortunately it also happens to be the most destructive to overall health.

Sensorineural hearing loss is caused by damage to the inner ear in the cochlea, the hair cells or the hearing nerve. It effectively prevents hair cells from capturing sound vibrations, leading to incomplete sound signals being sent to the brain for processing, and the inability for the individual to comprehend everything that the speaker said.

There are two main causes of sensorineural hearing loss:

  1. Age-related hearing loss: This is the most common type of sensorineural hearing loss. It affects both ears and increases as you get older. Gradual wear and tear on the hair cells in the cochlea is responsible for us losing our hearing as we age.
  2. Noise-induced hearing loss: This comes from prolonged noise exposure–in noisy workplaces or while listening to loud music for example. It can also be caused by very loud bangs from gunshots and explosions. You might not notice the effects of noise-induced hearing loss until several years have elapsed. Some people have tinnitus as the first sign of damage to their hearing.

Treatment for sensorineural hearing loss

Sensorineural hearing loss occurs slowly, meaning that people might not immediately notice these changes in their ability to listen. This might explain why the average person will wait seven years from the time they begin experiencing the symptoms of hearing loss to the time they decide to seek treatment.

It is also usually a permanent condition. No surgery or medication currently exists to treat it. Because this lost hearing can never be restored, hearing aids are often used to improve the ability to hear. Nearly all sensorineural hearing losses can be improved through the use of hearing aids or cochlear implants.

Conductive Hearing Loss

This type of hearing loss is caused by damage to the external and/or middle ear that creates a physical barrier which stops sound from entering.

Conductive hearing loss can be caused by many different reasons. The most common causes are the build-up of ear fluid and excessive earwax, which both lead to blockages and prevent sound going into the inner ear to be picked up by hair cells.

Treatment for conductive hearing loss

Fortunately, this is usually a temporary hearing loss. Options for therapy usually include medical intervention to deal with the specific cause of the blockage. If the blockage is not cleared through surgery or non-surgical procedure, other options like hearing aids or cochlear implants will have to be used instead.

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