Hearing loss is more common than you might think. About 20 percent of the adult population has some type of hearing loss that negatively affects their ability to communicate. It occurs in a few different forms, can be temporary or permanent, and can happen in one or both ears.
The condition may arise at any point in the human lifespan, but it roughly doubles in incidence with every ten years of age-meaning it is twice as commonly found in people in their 50s compared to people in their 40s. Hearing loss can happen for a number of reasons, some of which are not that apparent.
Something as routine as being exposed to loud subway sounds for 15 minutes a day can cause hearing damage over time. Thus, education and prevention are vital to reducing your chances of experiencing a loss of hearing.
Types of hearing loss
There are generally thought to be two separate categories of hearing loss.
- Sensorineural hearing loss is usually permanent and is caused by damage to the inner ear or auditory nerve to the brain. This can be the result of illness, head trauma or loud noise exposure, genetic causes, or factors related to aging.
- Conductive hearing loss usually is not permanent and typically happens when fluid, earwax, or some other foreign body is lodged within the middle ear and blocking sound waves from reaching the inner ear.
- A punctured eardrum or ear infection may also be the culprit. This type of hearing loss can often be repaired through surgery or some other medical treatment.
It is also possible for a person to have a combination of the two in what is known as mixed hearing loss, which may involve damage to the outer or middle ear and the inner ear or auditory nerve.
Hearing loss and aging
Because symptoms of hearing loss are frequently invisible, it is not always easy to tell when someone is experiencing it. A person may come across as quiet or aloof, even confused. This is especially true in older adults. Their inability to hear is sometimes mistaken for cognitive decline. What’s more, many adults do not immediately address the issue.
“The average person delays treatment for their hearing loss for about 7 years,” says Dr. Sreek Cherukuri, MD, founder of MDHearingAid. “There are a number of reasons for this delay, from the cost of hearing aids to simply denial or vanity”
“Nearly half of 75-year-olds have significant hearing loss,” Dr. Cherukuri adds. As do nearly 75 percent of people in their 80s.
Unfortunately, social isolation can be a very challenging side effect of hearing loss. Because communication levels can quickly deteriorate, people may become withdrawn. Moreover, the growing elderly population with hearing loss is increasingly likely to be hospitalized and experience poor health outcomes.
The Link Between Balance and Hearing Loss
- People with mild (25-decibel) hearing loss are three times more likely to have a history of falling.
- Every 10 decibels of loss increases the chances of falling by nearly 1.5 times.
- Loss of hearing can lead to balance problems because it creates a lack of awareness of our surroundings, leading to a greater chance of tripping, stumbling and falling.
If you have experienced a recent fall or have felt a lack of balance when standing and walking, it is important to discover the underlying cause of these issues. One of the essential tests to be run is a thorough hearing exam.
More than 90% of people who are diagnosed with hearing loss can benefit from a properly fitted hearing device. The earlier the diagnosis, the more success you will find in being fitted with a hearing aid that will not only be discreet and affordable, but will also help provide you with years of better balance, function and lifestyle.
Prevention & Treatment
To prevent the potentially isolating and depressing effects of hearing loss, prevention is critical. Of course, the major preventative measure is to always wear earplugs when exposed to noisy environments. “People that worked in loud environments such as factories or the military are especially at risk for hearing loss” Dr. Cherukuri says.
Still, “only 16 percent of physicians routinely screen for hearing loss,” notes Cherukuri, who recommends baseline hearing test beginning at age 60. In fact, many clinics offer free screenings. “A hearing test is a quick and easy way to check your hearing” he says. “If you don’t pass, it doesn’t automatically mean you need a hearing aid.”
If further tests point to conductive hearing loss “surgery can often be performed to replace injured or not properly functioning hearing bones or abnormalities in the eardrum,” says Dr. Cherukuri.
If nerve loss is the issue or surgery is not a viable option, then treatment usually involves using hearing aids or other assisted devices. Albeit only 1 out of 5 people who would benefit actually wears one, a hearing aid is highly effective for people of all ages.
If left untreated, hearing loss can severely restrict a person’s academic, professional, and personal lives. It is therefore essential that anyone with a suspected hearing difficulty seek immediate care to diagnose and treat the condition.