Research shows 1 in 10 Americans experience hearing loss that affects their ability to process and understand speech. But, many do not have their hearing evaluated for several reasons. Though many people are born with congenital anomalies causing profound deafness, hearing plays a crucial role in many people’s daily lives, allowing them to excel at home, work, and school.
While hearing is critical in the lives of most, many people ignore hearing difficulties until it is too late. The most obvious reason for having hearing problems assessed is that these problems will continue to worsen without treatment.
What is hearing loss?
Hearing loss, by definition, is deafness occurring due to damage to the inner ear or hearing nerve. To understand hearing loss and what it entails, we must first understand what hearing is. The ear is made up of three main sections, including the outer ear, middle ear, and inner ear. Each of these sections is responsible for specific aspects of a person’s ability to interpret speech and sounds.
As sound waves reach the eardrum, located in the middle ear, vibrations are created. These vibrations alert the malleus, incus, and stapes to help move soundwaves throughout the ear canal making their way to the inner ear. The inner ear then transforms soundwaves into electrical signals that are sent to the brain through the hearing nerve.
What are the types of hearing loss?
There are two main types of hearing loss that occur for many reasons, ranging from mild to severe. Identifying and addressing the cause of hearing loss can improve a person’s daily life and boost their confidence in social settings tremendously.
The two main types of hearing loss are:
- Conductive hearing loss affects the outer or middle ear areas.
- Sensorineural hearing loss affects the inner ear.
Whether suffering from conductive hearing loss, sensorineural, or a combination of the two, nearly half of the adult population over the age of 65 experience some degree of hearing loss. Common causes of hearing loss include congenital defects (a defect present at birth), disease, injury, some medications, repetitive exposure to loud noises or explosions, and age-related deterioration.
Is hearing loss sudden?
Sudden sensorineural hearing loss or sudden deafness accounts for 1 out of every 5,000 people per year. This sudden loss of hearing may occur at once or over three days. However, most people who experience hearing difficulties report a slow or gradual loss of hearing.
Presbycusis, or age-related hearing loss, is the most common type of gradual hearing loss experienced by adults. This type of hearing loss is often bilateral (affecting both ears) and is the result of changes to the auditory nerve and inner ear due to age. Symptoms of hearing loss include:
- Difficulty understanding consonants or sounds at a certain pitch
- Trouble hearing what those around you are saying when there is background noise or crowds around
- Constantly asking others to repeat themselves or slow down while in conversation
- Turning the television or radio up too loud makes others complain
- Withdrawing from social settings due to embarrassment
- Increased difficulty hearing while talking on the telephone
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Reasons it is important to address hearing loss sooner rather than later
Though many assistive devices are available to those experiencing hearing loss, early detection through routine screening can help prevent or slow the progression of hearing loss. Hearing loss should be treated as early as possible for many reasons including:
Accelerated brain tissue loss and dementia and hearing loss
The ears and brain work together, allowing you to interpret speech and sounds around them. However, hearing loss and dementia are connected. Hearing loss alters the brain's ability to work without straining, leading to an increased risk of premature brain shrinkage and dementia. In addition, people who experience difficulties become more socially isolated, which affects intellectual stimulation, as they are not routinely conversing with others.
Increased risk of falling
Hearing loss forces the brain into overdrive as it attempts to decipher sounds and speech, leaving fewer resources in the brain to ensure a person’s gait or balance is controlled. Though the elderly population experiences an increase in unsteadiness on their feet, age-related hearing loss makes people less aware of their surroundings and increases their risk of falling as the brain is focused on understanding what those around them are saying.
Negative impacts on relationships
Relationships and hearing loss can be problematic. When left untreated, hearing difficulties can take a toll on relationships, whether it be in the workplace, in friendships, or with a spouse.
Those who are experiencing hearing loss become more isolated in fear of rejection or embarrassment from constantly asking those around them to make accommodations so they can hear while those on the opposite end may become increasingly frustrated while trying to communicate.
Employment and economic costs
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health reports nearly 30 million workers in the United States are exposed to noise levels in the workplace high enough to cause irreversible hearing loss. Although hearing loss is considered a disability that may be self-reported during the interview process, it has been shown to decrease annual salaries by up to $30,000. Therefore, income and hearing loss can be inversely related.
People living with hearing loss can find it more difficult to transition throughout their career. Still, accommodations can be made to facilitate the job, like assistive listening devices, noise adjustments, and receiving a written summary of meeting notes.
Fatigue and hearing loss
The earliest sign of hearing loss is increased fatigue resulting from increased work of the brain and ears to work through various sounds.
Why does listening make you tired? There are three key areas of the brain that connect with the auditory system to help interpret sounds and produce speech:
- Broca’s area - responsible for speech production
- Wernicke’s area - responsible for speech comprehension
- Temporal lobe - responsible for managing hearing
Each of these three areas of the brain plays a critical role in speech. When damage occurs, the ability to hear certain frequencies is lost. This forces the brain to work harder to make sense of these sounds.
Depression and hearing loss
Losing the ability to hear produces similar side effects to all other types of loss, leaving a person to go through the five stages of grief before coming to acceptance. However, before seeking help for their hearing loss, individuals often become socially isolated due to increased anxiety in social settings.
Missing out on sounds that once brought joy
Do you enjoy the sounds of nature like a babbling brook? Maybe you frequently watch your grandkids but find it more difficult to understand when they attempt to communicate with you? Gradual hearing loss can leave a person unable to enjoy things around them that previously sparked joy. Luckily, treatment and assistive devices can help.
Get your hearing checked at Houston Hearing Center
At the Houston Hearing Center, we have been providing better hearing solutions in the greater Houston area for more than 100 years. Whether you are experiencing new-onset hearing loss, considering hearing aids, or are looking to upgrade your current assistive devices, our team has got your back – and your ears! Contact us today for a hearing evaluation.