What are the signs and symptoms of Hearing loss?

Most people do not notice they are experiencing hearing loss when it starts as it is typically gradual; however, there are times when sudden hearing loss occurs. When hearing loss is suspected, it may take several years for a person to notice the impact on their life, act, and seek medical help. Turning up the TV, asking for clarification, stating people mumble more, your ears feel plugged, being less engaged in difficult listening

situations are all potential signs of hearing loss. Knowing the symptoms of hearing loss is helpful to encourage you to act sooner. Treatment will be dependent on the type and degree of the hearing loss.

Types of Hearing Loss:

Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SNHL) is the most common type of hearing loss. SNHL occurs when there is damage to the sensory hair cells or nerve fibers in the inner ear. It is also referred to as "nerve deafness."

Causes of sensorineural hearing loss include:

  • Aging
  • Noise induced hearing loss
  • Acoustic neuroma (noncancerous tumor that grows on the vestibulocochlear nerve)
  • Meniere's disease
  • Congenital hearing loss
  • Hereditary hearing loss
  • Head trauma

SNHL is most treated with amplification and in extreme cases, a surgically implanted device called a Cochlear Implant is used.

Conductive Hearing Loss (CHL) is the second most common type of hearing loss. When sound waves are unable to transfer from the outside world to the inner ear, a CHL can occur.

Causes of conductive hearing loss include:
  • Ear Infections
  • Fluid in the ears
  • Allergies/Sinus issues
  • Impacted ear wax
  • Foreign objects
  • Perforated eardrum
  • Benign tumors
  • Scarring of the ear canal
  • Tubes
  • Cholesteatoma
  • Superior Canal Dehiscence
  • No ear canal or outer ear

Often, CHL be treated through surgical intervention or pharmaceuticals provided by an Ear Nose and Throat physician. It is important to see an otolaryngologist or an ENT when any of the above are present.

Mixed Hearing Loss is a combination of both sensorineural and conductive hearing losses. This means there is damage in the outer ear, middle, inner ear, and/or the nerve pathway. This is treated with a combination of medication, surgery, and/or hearing aids.

Asymmetric Hearing Loss occurs when the ears have significantly different hearing. This is not common and often requires further medical management by an ENT.

Auditory Neuropathy (AN) is a diagnosis in which the structures of the cochlea that are responsible for transferring sound are present and functional, however, sound is not successfully transmitted by the auditory nerve to the brain. This happens in the presence of normal hearing.

Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) affects anyone at any age. When sounds are too loud, they become harmful, whether it be brief or long-term exposure. NIHL can be immediate, or it can take a long time to become noticeable. It can be temporary or permanent affecting one or both ears. Noise-induced hearing loss is something that is preventable.

When are noises loud enough to damage hearing?

Sound is measured in units called decibels (dB). Sounds at or below 70 dB, even after long exposure, are unlikely to cause hearing loss. However, long, or repeated exposure to sounds at or above 85 dB can cause hearing loss. These situations should be avoided, or hearing protection worn. Continuous exposure to loud sounds causes permanent damage to the nerve cells in your ear.

Some activities (this is not an exhaustive list) that put a person at risk for noise-induced hearing loss include:

  • Gun shots
  • Riding recreational vehicles such as dirt bikes
  • Listening to MP3 players at high volumes through earbuds
  • Construction
  • Loud concerts

Hearing Loss Prevention:

Protecting your ears is vital to prevent hearing loss and potential conditions like tinnitus. If you have a career that exposes you to loud noises, make sure to take the proper safety steps to protect yourself. Hearing protection- earplugs and earmuffs- is essential when working and being around loud equipment or attending loud events. Not all cases of hearing loss are preventable; however, there are several steps that you can take to protect your hearing.

Some examples of preventing hearing loss include:

  • Limiting your noise exposure during activities
  • Avoiding prolonged exposure
  • Seeking help with ear infections immediately as they cause permanent damage if left untreated
  • Wearing ear protection
  • Other examples of avoiding hearing loss are to refrain from inserting cotton swabs (Q-Tips) or other objects in your ears, blow your nose gently through both nostrils and avoid smoking. Studies show that tobacco usage increases your chances of hearing loss.

Regardless of a person's age, it is always a good idea to have your hearing tested regularly. Early detection of hearing loss is key to assist in reducing further damage to your ears.