When it comes to hearing loss, we tend to overlook cases that aren’t congenital or elderly. However, hearing loss doesn’t just happen to infants and seniors — it can occur at any age, and the warning signs usually appear years before the heavy symptoms. Here’s a quick overview of hearing loss, what to look for, and what you need to know about treatment and prevention.
Hearing Loss: An Overview
Hearing loss can come in multiple forms, caused by various problems with the ears and nerves within them. There are four general types of hearing loss, including:
- Conductive hearing loss
- Sensorineural hearing loss
- Mixed hearing loss (a mix of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss)
- Auditory nerve hearing loss (technically a type of sensorineural hearing loss)
Sensorineural hearing loss makes up 90% of hearing loss cases, and is the most common form of hearing loss. It occurs when the cochlea begins to degrade, leading to gradual hearing loss over time. The cochlea is an inner ear organ lined with tiny hairs. These hairs pick up sound and determine the volume and frequency of these sounds before passing them to the brain. Over time, these hairs begin to wear down, leading to sensorineural hearing loss. Noise exposure and other loud sounds can speed up this process.
Dismissing the Myths
Our ears are extraordinarily misunderstood. Before we can discuss hearing loss seriously, we need to clear away any misinformation.
“Hearing loss only happens to old people.”
This is a harmful misconception. While seniors are more prone to developing hearing loss, anyone at any age can begin losing their hearing. Even teenagers and young adults can develop hearing loss under certain conditions. Many people don’t get their hearing tested because they believe it’s an “old person problem”, which leads them to miss important warning signs about their hearing. When you spread this myth, you’re contributing to that problem.
“Hearing loss means you lose all your hearing.”
This is far from the truth. Only some cases of hearing loss leave people profoundly hard of hearing or completely deaf. Some people only have trouble hearing certain frequencies, voices, and sounds (like consonants), while others just struggle to hear in loud rooms and suffer from tinnitus. Every case of hearing loss is different, and not all of them involve complete loss of hearing.
“Hearing aids and surgery can fix it.”
Hearing aids and surgery are treatments, not band-aids. They cannot be slapped onto every case of hearing loss, and both avenues of treatment are serious decisions. They do not fix hearing loss, they alleviate the symptoms and make it easier to function. Once your hearing is gone, it cannot be healed but certainly compensated with hearing aids.
Early Warning Signs of Hearing Loss
The symptoms of hearing loss can be easy to dismiss, especially when they’re phrased a certain way. “Trouble hearing”, “stress”, and “fatigue” are all general things, and it can be difficult to determine if what you’re going through is actually hearing loss. Sensorineural hearing loss happens gradually, so you might not realise your hearing is affected. It can manifest in insidious ways, making you think that the problem lies elsewhere.
Here are some specific hearing loss signs that you can identify in your day-to-day life.
- Feeling genuinely physically & mentally exhausted after a long day of listening to people talk.
- Feeling lost in conversations, especially group conversations.
- Frequently asking people to repeat themselves.
- Turning up your music or television loud enough that others comment on it.
- Avoiding parties, get-togethers, and noisy restaurants.
- Having trouble understanding certain people’s voices, like women or children.
- Frequently mishearing certain words as others.
- Being easily irritated, stressed, or overwhelmed by noises, voices, or loud sounds.
If you’re suffering from these symptoms, it might be a sign that your hearing has been affected. It’s important that you get your hearing tested as soon as possible. If you do have hearing loss, getting the issue diagnosed and treated can improve your quality of life, career, and relationships.
Causes of Hearing Loss
Sensorineural hearing loss is primarily caused by noise exposure. This involves any prolonged exposure to loud, grating, or intense noise. These noises include music, engines, power tools, and other sources of loud sound. The most common sources of noise exposure come from:
- Loud hobbies. If you enjoy attending concerts, festivals, car shows, gun ranges, sports games, clubs, and other loud events, you’re more likely to suffer from noise exposure. Those who enjoy hobbies that include loud instruments or power tools are also more prone to hearing loss over time.
- Noisy work conditions. Musicians (link to new article about musicians), construction workers, pilots, and other workers in loud conditions are more susceptible to noise exposure. That’s why it’s vital for people working in loud conditions to wear hearing protection.
- Living in a loud city. If you live in a loud city that experiences heavy traffic and high populations, noise exposure is a risk. You cannot escape the sound, even when you’re asleep or relaxing in your home. Your risk is heightened if you take loud forms of public transport, like subways. It’s recommended that people living in dense cities wear earplugs or noise-canceling headphones when they can.
- Lack of hearing protection. Above all else, a lack of hearing protection is the primary cause of hearing loss. If you plan on attending loud events, work a loud job, or regularly take the subway, you should invest in some earplugs to protect your ears. While you might not feel the effects of noise exposure now, you will later.
Hearing Loss Treatments
Hearing loss treatments have come a long way over the past two decades, and they’re constantly being improved. Here are your options if you’ve recently been diagnosed with hearing loss.
- Hearing aids. The most common form of treatment. While it doesn’t replace your hearing, it does make it easier to hear. Hearing aid tech has improved a lot, and many models are smaller and more refined than ever. Functionality has been boosted, with certain models offering features like Own Voice Processing and Bluetooth connectivity.
- Tinnitus maskers. If you suffer from tinnitus, these devices can give you relief. Some hearing aids come with tinnitus therapies installed.
If your hearing loss is mild, you might be tempted to change your lifestyle to “cope” with it. However, the earlier you start to wear hearing aids to alleviate your hearing loss, the better your quality of life and wellbeing is likely to be. It is not a good idea to put off treatment until your hearing loss worsens when you can continue to enjoy the lifestyle you had previously thanks to modern hearing aids.
Prevention & Protection
Prevention and protection are the only ways to truly avoid hearing loss. Even if your hearing is already affected, taking measures to protect what’s left can prevent it from worsening. Preventative measures include:
- Wearing earplugs. Going to a show? Taking the subway? Heading to work? Put on some noise-canceling headphones, or use your earplugs.
- Take rests. If you’ve had a noisy day, settle down and enjoy the quiet afterwards. Your ears need rest.
- Turn down your music. Loud music is becoming a serious noise exposure risk. Turn down the volume a bit, and limit your time using headphones or earbuds.
- Turn off the television. If you’re not actively watching it, try to eliminate this source of background noise.
- Limit your time at clubs, concerts, and parties. Depending on the noise level, you shouldn’t spend very long at noisy events. Check your watch often, and don’t stay more than a few hours.
- Get your hearing tested often. You should visit an audiologist every few years for a hearing test. If you’re in-between visits or want to test your hearing now, try the online Signia hearing test for a general idea of your hearing ability. If there’s something wrong, you can visit a professional for a full audiogram.
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