Hearing Loss Overview
Hearing loss affects approximately 50 million Americans. People of all ages can have hearing loss and adults may start noticing changes in their hearing as early as their 40s or 50s. Hearing loss is a gradual process and you may not even notice it at first. That’s because the changes are so small that your brain makes adjustments to help you hear. By the time you first notice the changes to your hearing, you may have already had hearing loss for several years.
How Hearing Works
Hearing is a complex process. Sound waves in the environment enter the outer ear and travel down the ear canal. The sound waves bump against the middle ear or eardrum. This vibrates the three tiny bones in the middle ear, called the ossicles. As the ossicles move, they cause ripples in the fluid-filled middle ear.
Small hair cells in the inner ear can sense this movement. They translate the movement into electrical signals, then send the signals up the auditory nerve to the brain. Finally, your brain processes these electrical signals so that you experience sound.
The Types of Hearing Loss
When any of the parts of this hearing process get disrupted, you’ll experience hearing loss. There are three types of hearing loss: sensorineural hearing loss, conductive hearing loss, and mixed hearing loss.
Sensorineural Hearing Loss
The most common kind of hearing loss is sensorineural hearing loss. This is a permanent loss that means there is damage to the hair cells in the inner ear. Common causes of SNHL are caused by exposure to very loud sounds and/or age-related changes to the inner ear hair cells. When the cells in the inner ear are damaged, they can no longer send signals to the brain. This hearing loss affects high-pitched sounds and makes it hard to decipher important speech sounds especially in the presence of noise.
Conductive Hearing Loss
Conductive hearing loss is often characterized by a sudden loss of hearing. Sounds may seem muffled or like they’re coming from far away. This hearing loss is caused by problems in the middle ear or outer ear. An injury can block the ear canal or infection can fill the eardrum with fluid. Even a buildup of earwax in the ear canal can cause conductive hearing loss.
Mixed Hearing Loss
The third type of hearing loss is mixed hearing loss. This hearing loss is a combination of conductive hearing loss and sensorineural hearing loss. For example, you might have sensorineural hearing loss due to the natural aging process, but you also have an ear infection or a build-up of ear wax that is blocking your ear and causing conductive hearing loss.
The Signs of Hearing Loss
Hearing loss can cause mental, emotional, and physical distress. Some of the most common signs of hearing loss include:
- Difficulty hearing in places with background noise
- Trouble hearing phone conversations
- Failing to hear someone speak from another room
- Turning up the volume on the TV
- Sleeping through the alarm clock
- Missing high pitched sounds, like the birds chirping outside
- Feeling embarrassed to meet with friends because it’s hard to hear what’s being said
- Social withdrawal
- Cognitive decline
If you notice several of these signs in yourself or a loved one, consider having your hearing tested.
Hearing Loss Treatment
The most common treatment option for hearing loss is using a pair of quality hearing aids. Hearing aids are calibrated to match your unique hearing needs. The advanced program and settings will help you hear in every listening environment. Hearing aids come in a range of styles, from behind-the-ear devices to in-the-ear or even in-the-canal hearing aids. If a hearing loss is detected, we will help you find a style that matches your lifestyle and treats your hearing needs.
For tough listening situations where you may need additional support, you can also use an assistive listening device (ALD). These devices can connect your hearing aids to your phone or to your TV for better listening. You can also find ALDs that help you have conversations in noisy settings. You can place a mic near the speaker and send the sound of their voice right to your hearing aids.
Cochlear implants are another treatment option for people with severe hearing loss. The implant can bypass the ear and send sound signals directly to the auditory nerve. Cochlear implants have a small component that is implanted and a component that sits behind the ear.