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Understanding Hearing Loss
FAQ’s – ABOUT HEARING LOSS
WHAT CAUSES HEARING LOSS?
Hearing loss can be caused by several different factors. Scientifically the most common cause is called presbycusis, meaning that aging or genetics are causing your hearing to slowly decline over time, similar to many people's experience with their eyesight.
You could also experience noise-induced hearing loss. This type of hearing loss is a result of over-exposure to loud sounds. Even sounds over 85 decibels can cause permanent hearing damage after 15 minutes of exposure—that's about as loud as the average lawnmower!
If you have earwax, or another object blocking outer ear canal, that could be causing hearing loss as well. Usually not permanent, this is known as conductive hearing loss and can usually be cured with the proper course of treatment.
Some other common causes of hearing loss may be linked to high blood pressure, diabetes, ototoxicity (adverse reaction from medications that affects hearing), and more. You should always consult your certified hearing healthcare provider if you think you may be experiencing hearing loss due to a medical condition.
HOW COMMON IS HEARING LOSS?
According to current statistics, hearing loss affects:
- 20% of adults in the U.S.
- 67% of people over age 75
- 33% of people over age 65
- 14% of people ages 45-64
- 15% of children ages 6-19
Overall, 48 million Americans suffer from hearing loss. That's approximately 1 in 5 people! Keep in mind that 60% of people who have hearing loss are below retirement age.
WHAT ARE THE COMMON SYMPTOMS OF HEARING LOSS?
- You are constantly asking people to repeat themselves
- You have difficulty while having a conversation in a noisy environment
- You often mishear words
- It seems as though many of the people in your life mumble
- People are always telling you to turn the TV down
- It's very difficult to understand the person on the other end of the phone
- You have a constant annoying ringing or buzzing in your ears
- Most importantly: friends and family members have asked you to get your hearing checked.
Yes! There are three different types of hearing loss, as determined by where in your ear the problem lies.
Types of hearing loss:
Conductive Hearing Loss: Sound can't travel from the outer ear, (the part you can see) to the inner ear (the part you can't see). This is often the result of wax build-up, trauma to the ear, or even ear infections. Typically, conductive hearing loss “turns the volume down” but doesn't necessarily affect the clarity of your hearing. Conductive hearing losses may also be corrected by medical intervention, so it is always important to make an appointment with an ear, nose, and throat specialist for further consultation.
Sensorineural Hearing Loss: With sensorineural hearing loss, the problem may be damage to the inner ear (cochlea) or within the hearing nerve. Most of the time, the hair cells in the inner ear have been worn down due to aging or noise exposure, but sometimes, medications, cancer treatments or illness can create deterioration as well. With sensorineural loss, it's not just that “the volume is turned down,” but your ability to understand speech suffers too. This is the most common type of hearing loss as 90% of people with hearing loss have this kind. The most effective treatment is hearing devices.
- Mixed Hearing Loss: Just like it sounds, this is a mixture of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss.
The different levels of hearing loss are:
Mild: This means that you may have some trouble hearing conversations in a noisy room or when someone is speaking quietly. In quiet environments, mild hearing loss is manageable.
Moderate: This degree of hearing loss makes it even harder to hear conversation in group settings. People with moderate loss are those that have the TV and radio turned up too loud for comfort.
Moderately to Severe: Hearing and understanding speech is significantly reduced at this level and group environments are an extreme challenge.
Severe: This degree of hearing loss means that normal conversation is not audible. Even shouting can be challenging to comprehend.
- Profound: This is the greatest degree of hearing loss. Only the loudest sounds are audible and even shouting may not be heard at all.
Hearing loss cannot always be prevented; however, there are important things you can do to ensure you are making your hearing health a priority and taking precautionary measures.
- Use hearing aids to address your hearing loss! If you lift weights and exercise your muscles, the nerves fire to the muscle and keep it strong. If you don't exercise your muscles, they'll weaken and atrophy. That's why it's important to use hearing aids to stimulate the hearing nerve. This helps the clarity of your hearing stay as much intact as it can. Hearing aids make the most out of the hearing ability you have left and keep your brain's ability to recognize speech in top shape.
Limit your noise exposure. If you work in a noisy environment or plan to attend a loud event, like a concert, then ear protection is a must. Regular earplugs provide some protection, which is better than nothing, but most hearing care providers can fit you with custom earplugs for maximum comfort and protection.
- Test your hearing every year so you can monitor your hearing health and take action as soon as any changes occur.
Depending on your symptoms, if your hearing loss is caused by a blockage like a wax buildup (conductive hearing loss), then having it cleared by your doctor or a certified hearing healthcare provider could drastically improve your hearing ability. However, the most common hearing loss originates from damage to the sensory organ and/or nerve in the inner ear (sensorineural hearing loss), and nerve damage is permanent. The good news is that 95% of sensorineural hearing loss cases can be effectively helped through the use of hearing aids. Your local certified hearing healthcare provider can help you find hearing aids that fit your degree of hearing loss, needs, and lifestyle.
WILL MY HEARING LOSS WORSEN OVER TIME?
It depends on the type of hearing loss you're experiencing. For the majority of people who have hearing loss, it will get worse with time. Whether you have hearing loss from continued noise exposure or it's simply a combination of aging and genetics, time is not on your side. This is why it's important to visit a local certified hearing healthcare provider at your earliest convenience and treat any hearing loss you may be experiencing.
DOES EARWAX CAUSE HEARING LOSS?
Absolutely. Earwax can build up or become impacted and then partially or completely block your ear canal. In fact, earwax is the most common cause of conductive hearing loss.
If you're worried that you're producing too much earwax and it's affecting your hearing ability, a certified hearing provider can quickly and easily deal with excess wax.
Note: the use of cotton swabs to clean your ear canals is NOT recommended by hearing healthcare professionals. It can actually be the cause of earwax buildup!
WHEN SHOULD I GET HEARING AIDS?
As soon as you or a loved one notices a change in your hearing. If left untreated, hearing loss will continue to degenerate, negatively affecting your quality of life. Well documented research has shown individuals with hearing loss, left untreated, are 5-times more likely to developed dementia and other cognitive/memory problems and/or are leads to depression, feelings of social isolation, and relationship strains with loved ones.
10 CONSEQUENCES OF UNTREATED HEARING LOSS
Untreated hearing loss may result in a serious long-term consequence to healthy brain functioning.
Remember: Hearing is a brain activity (sometimes referred to as "brain hearing"). Your ears deliver sound as electrical impulses via the auditory nerve, but it’s within your brain these electrical impulses are translated into what we recognize as sound.
When fewer sounds make their way to the brain, the brain reacts by shifting how it operates. In a 2014 study found even with only minor hearing loss, the parts of your brain that handle auditory processing can switch to visual processing instead.
Your risk of dementia may increase with untreated hearing loss
Numerous studies have shown, adults living with untreated hearing loss are more likely to develop dementia. Even living with a MILD degree of hearing loss increases your risk of developing dementia by 2x times. The greater the degree of hearing loss, the greater the risk of cognitive decline. For example, living with a MODERATE degree of hearing loss is 3x times the risk. In the case of a SEVERE degree of hearing loss, you’re up to 5x times more likely to develop dementia.
- Your mental sharpness may suffer causing cognitive decline
Adults with untreated hearing loss experience a 30-40% faster decline in cognitive abilities. When you have difficulty hearing what’s going on around you, your mental sharpness can suffer. This is due to a reduction of stimulation to the brain, which may impair its ability to process sound and recognize speech. That's why it's important to identify hearing loss early so it can be treated as soon as possible.
- Your memory may be impacted with untreated hearing loss
Research has confirmed untreated hearing loss does have an impact of memory. Memory loss is just one of many of the side effects of untreated hearing loss, but it is one of the most important. Do you find it hard to remember what you’ve just heard? Does it feel like you have to really concentrated to simply follow the conversation? It can be difficult to comprehend and remember what’s being said when it’s a struggle to hear conversations or information in the first place. This is because the extra cognitive resources required to listen, known as cognitive overload, the brain reduced the resources available for memory and comprehension. Due to cognitive overload, the brain was unable retain the information.
- Untreated hearing loss may affect your balance
Studies have shown, adults with a MILD degree of hearing loss are 3x times more likely to have a history of falling. Moreover, for every additional 10 decibels of hearing loss increases the chances of falling by 1.4x times the original risk.
- Your lifespan may be shorter due to untreated hearing loss
Researchers have found untreated hearing loss is linked to increased mortality risk for older adults. Studies have shown people living with untreated hearing loss have a shorter lifespan than people with hearing loss that are using hearing aids.
- You may have a higher risk of depression with untreated hearing loss
Many survey’s shows adults with untreated hearing loss were more likely to report depression, anxiety, paranoia, feeling of sadness and isolation, than individuals with hearing loss using hearing aids. As your hearing worsens, you may find it difficult to decipher and locate sounds around you. This may lead you to feel more insecure about your surroundings. Have you been feeling less secure lately?
- Conversations are not as fun with untreated hearing loss
As your hearing worsens, it becomes more challenging to follow everyday conversations. You may need to ask people to repeat themselves frequently or sit closer to people so you can read their lips to understand. You may even nod and pretend to understand what is being said. Does this sound familiar? Jokes aren't as funny if you miss the punchline.
- Your social life may suffer living with untreated hearing loss
You may find it harder to keep in touch with your circle of friends when you have difficulty hearing. It may be particularly noticeable in certain settings, such as larger gatherings or dinner parties. As a result, you may find yourself withdrawing from certain social events or declining invitations. In fact, research shows that seniors with untreated hearing loss are 20-24% less likely to participate in social activities.
Communication can be exhausting living with untreated hearing loss
When it’s difficult to hear, communication can be exhausting. This is because you must dig deeper into your cognitive reserves to understand. This can be particularly taxing at social events, in restaurants or in crowds where you may need to concentrate even harder to decipher what people say to you.
- Untreated hearing loss may impact your income
According to a study by The Better Hearing Institute, untreated hearing loss can impact your earning potential. It can account for up to $30,000 in lost income annually and can impact your performance at work. When you don't hear clearly, you risk missing key information in meetings or directives from supervisors.
BENEFITS OF USING HEARING AIDS
Hearing Aids Help Maintain Optimal Brain Function
Hearing Aids Improve Brain Function
Researchers found treating hearing loss with hearing aids may possibly prevent the effects of cognitive decline or earlier onset of dementia.
Use It or Lose It
When your brain is deprived of sound, such as from untreated hearing loss. Over time, your brain loses the ability to process sound. If left untreated, the parts of the brain normally responsible for hearing tend to shrink or atrophy, which is a result of lack of auditory stimulation called “Auditory Deprivation”.
Treat Your Hearing Loss Early
It is important for your brain to have your hearing tested and start using hearing aids if needed when you find out that you are losing some of your hearing. Once you start using hearing aids, the hearing processing resumes, supplying signals to the brain. In this way, your hearing will improve but you will also keep your brain fit and active.
Prevent Brain Shrinkage
The longer you wait to seek treatment, the more the brain will atrophy and struggle to understand words and/or process information. The longer you wait, it can make it more difficult to be able to hear again and activate the parts in the brain that pick up and process sounds.
TREATING YOUR HEARING LOSS WITH HEARING AIDS
Individuals who choose to treat their hearing loss with hearing aids are known to have better overall health, professional success and emotional well-being than those who don’t.
The Brain Forgets Sounds
Untreated hearing loss not only affects your hearing and your quality of life, it also affects the brain's ability to remember common everyday sounds because the hearing channels are no longer effectively used and do not send signals to the brain. When the hearing nerves lose their function and no longer channel sound signals to the brain, the brain 'forgets' the sounds over time and becomes unable to understand these sounds.
Hearing Aids Improve Brain Function and Cognitive Health
In a study of first-time hearing aid users, hearing aids helped brain function in multiple ways. The study showed that after using hearing aids for six months, the hearing aid users’ results were found to have:
- Improved memory
- Improved speech processing
- Greater ease of listening
Hearing Aids Reduce Mental Strain and Improve Mental Health
Straining to hear conversations is a common symptom of hearing loss. Continual stress on the brain to process sounds pulls resources away from other parts of the brain, reducing memory. If this strain continues, your brain could stop being able to conduct these functions altogether, allowing dementia to set in. Wearing hearing aids makes it easier to listen and limits brain strain, enhancing memory and brain functioning.
Hearing Aids Prevents Social Isolation and Improves Mental Health
When people cannot process the sounds around them, they tend to avoid social situations. This isolation is a leading cause of dementia because their cognitive functions are not being used and deteriorate quicker. Wearing hearing aids can help you participate in the conversation again and may reduce the feelings of depression, anger and anxiety by helping you to reconnect and effectively communicate within your world.
Hearing Aids Improve Physical Health
According to research, individuals with untreated hearing loss are three times more likely to suffer physical injuries, specifically falls due to the shared cochlear (hearing) and vestibular (balance) pathology. In addition, untreated hearing loss leads to poor awareness of the auditory and spatial environment.