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Understanding Hearing Loss

Hearing loss is a very common medical condition. What’s also common is that it unfortunately often goes untreated due to not recognizing the signs, not taking it seriously, and not wanting to admit it’s something you might now be facing.

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Understanding Hearing Loss

This article originally appeard on the Start Hearing website. 

What exactly is hearing loss?

Simply put, hearing loss is a reduction in your ability to hear sounds. It can range in severity from mild (struggling to hear or understand speech at a normal volume level) to profound (little to no speech can be heard at normal levels and only loud sounds can be heard).

Sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL)

The most common, SNHL occurs when damage occurs to the inner ear nerves and hair cells, impacting the pathways from your inner ear to your brain. SNHL is permanent and generally can’t be corrected medically or surgically but CAN be treated with hearing aids.

Conductive hearing loss

Conductive hearing loss is the result of an obstruction or damage to the outer or middle ear that prevents sound from being conducted to (reaching) the inner ear. Depending on the cause (earwax buildup, damage to the eardrum, foreign objects in the ear canal, fluid, abnormal tumors, or growths), conductive hearing loss may or may not be permanent.

Mixed hearing loss

Mixed hearing loss is a combination of both sensorineural and conductive hearing loss. It usually occurs due to damage over time paired with trauma to the ear.

What causes hearing loss?

Hearing loss can develop because of several reasons. Here are some of the most common:

  • Aging

  • Exposure to loud noises
  • Certain medications (called ototoxic drugs)
  • Viral infections
  • Acoustic tumors
  • Head trauma
  • Stroke
  • Eardrum damage

Signs of hearing loss

Hearing loss usually happens gradually, so catching it early can be tricky. Here are some signs to watch for that could be early indicators:

  • Trouble understanding conversations in noisy places
  • Difficulty hearing phone calls
  • Difficulty understanding voices, such as women’s and children’s voices
  • Inability to hear everyday sounds like the ding of the microwave or birds chirping
  • Frequently asking people to repeat themselves
  • Feeling like people are often mumbling
  • Needing the television or radio set to very high volumes
  • Ringing in the ears

What’s tinnitus?

Often referred to as "ringing in the ears," tinnitus has also been described as hearing hissing, roaring, whistling, buzzing, or clicking, and the sounds are only heard by the person experiencing them. It’s an underlying condition of the ear, auditory nerve, or other influencing factor and can be intermittent or constant and at fluctuating volume levels.

Why you should treat hearing loss

Hearing loss has a ripple effect that may easily impact the quality of the rest of your life — emotionally, physically, and mentally.

Impacts to emotional well-being

Not being able to hear the world around you may lead to feelings of isolation, which may lead to depression, moments of embarrassment, or trigger anxiety. 

Additionally, adults with hearing loss are up to five times more likely to experience cognitive decline.

Impacts to physical health

Loss of hearing may lead to physical complications like an increased risk of falling and accidental injuries, as well as other medical complications due to not clearly hearing and understanding medical instructions. 

If you know or suspect you or someone you love is suffering from hearing loss, it’s important to treat it as early as possible to avoid further negative impacts. Source: Johns Hopkins Medicine

Isolation: Hearing loss creates a level of social isolation, a known risk factor for developing dementia. Source: Frontiers in Psychology

Cognitive load shift: To compensate for hearing loss, the brain steals energy needed for memory.  Source: The Lancet Commissions

Brain tissue loss: Hearing loss and its impacts on how the brain functions contributes to accelerated brain atrophy and shrinkage. Source: Johns Hopkins Medicine

Request an appointment with a provider

Take the next step: If you’re ready for an in-office visit, choose a date and time that works for you. Once you submit your request, a Hearing Care Advisor will contact you to assist with scheduling your appointment with a Start Hearing professional in your area. Get started.

Date posted: Oct 27, 2023
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