Hearing Loss: Types, Symptoms, Causes, Risks, Complications, Treatment and Prevention

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young woman with Hearing Loss

1Overview

When you lose one of the senses, like the sense of sight and hearing, it seems as if the world becomes unfamiliar and stressful. Hearing loss, for one, could take a toll on a person’s life. What is a hearing loss? Hearing loss is the abrupt or gradual decrease in how well you can hear.

Depending on the cause of the hearing loss, the symptoms vary from mild to severe, and temporary or permanent.

Hearing loss is a global problem. In fact, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 360 million people worldwide have disabling hearing loss. Of these number, 32 million are children.

There are many causes of hearing loss but an estimated 60 percent of childhood hearing loss stems from preventable causes. Today, 1.1 billion people, ages 12 to 35 years old, are at risk of hearing loss because of their exposure to recreational noise.

In the United States, about 2 to 3 children out of 1,000 births have a detectable level of hearing loss. Moreover, 90 percent of those born with hearing loss have parents who are able to hear properly. Early detection is important especially for young children.

Among adults, men are more likely to suffer from hearing loss than women.

2Types Of Hearing Loss

Congenital Hearing Loss

This is when a newborn or infant can’t hear her parents or her surroundings. This is often incurable and caused by alterations during the development stages of the fetus.

Conductive Hearing Loss

Conductive hearing loss (CHL) happens when there is a mechanical problem in the outer or middle ear. The three tiny bones called ossicles may not conduct the sound appropriately.

Sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL)

Sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL) happens when the hair cells or nerve endings that can detect sound in the ears are injured or damaged. Often, this type of hearing loss can’t be reversed.

3Symptoms

The most common signs and symptoms of hearing loss include:

  • Feeling as if the ears are plugged or muffled hearing
  • Trouble understanding what others are saying
  • Listening to the radio or watching the television at a higher volume
  • Difficulty understanding words
  • Trouble hearing consonants
  • Withdrawal from conversations with others
  • Avoidance of social gatherings

The other symptoms of hearing loss include:

4Causes

Hearing loss can be caused by a wide array of factors. In adults, the condition is either inherited from your parents or acquired from ear damaging drugs, exposure to loud noises, head injuries, brain tumor, and old age.

Meniere’s Disease

This condition affects the inner ear, but still, the cause is unclear. However, the disease is characterized by the presence of the sensorineural hearing loss, dizziness or vertigo and tinnitus or hearing noises in the ear like buzzing or ringing.

Otosclerosis

This is a disease involving the middle ear wherein the movement of the tiny bones is affected. Fortunately, this disease is surgically reversible and treatable.

Autoimmune Inner Ear Disease

This happens when the immune system of the body attacks the cells inside the ears. This type of hearing loss is abrupt and needs immediate treatment to prevent permanent hearing loss.

Ototoxic Medications

There are some medications that could damage the ear and cause hearing loss such as Lasix, aspirin, some antibiotics and chemotherapy drugs.

Loud Noise

Noise -induced hearing loss can cause permanent damage to the ears. Listening to loud noises for long periods of time can cause this permanent damage.

Physical Head Trauma

When there is a physical head injury like skull fracture, damage to the ear drums or traumatic brain injury, the effect could be hearing loss.

Acoustic Neuroma

Brain tumor like acoustic neuroma can cause permanent hearing loss.

Old Age

Presbycusis is a type of hearing loss among older adults.

5Risk Factors

There are factors, on the other hand, that could predispose a person to hear loss which includes:

  • Aging – when a person grows old, there is degeneration of the delicate structures of the inner ear as a result of aging.
  • Prolonged exposure to loud noise – Both adults and children are exposed to loud noises. Exposure to loud sounds can, in fact, damage the cells in the inner ear. Though this could also stem from a sudden blast of noise like a bomb exploding or a gunshot.
  • Genetics – Hearing loss can be inherited from family members. The genetic makeup of a person makes him or her prone to ear damage.
  • Occupational noises – Some people are exposed to noises in their line of work like carpenters, DJs, factory work, and farming.
  • Recreational noises –  Recreational noises are those from firearms, jet engines and other activities with loud noises.
  • Some diseases – Some diseases like meningitis may damage the cochlea inside the ear.
  • Some medications – Some drugs are damaging to the ears.

6Complications

People with hearing loss may suffer from the various effects of the condition. It greatly impacts the quality of life of those affected, mostly older adults.

Functional Impact

One of the hardest impact or complication of hearing loss is the inability to communicate with others. This is particularly for people who can hear in the past and suffered from permanent hearing loss later in life.

Social and Emotional Impact

Hearing loss may cause exclusion from others, isolation, anxiety, and depression.

Financial Impact

Hearing loss treatments do not come cheap. Surgery and hearing aids may cost the family their finances, affecting their quality of life. 

7Diagnosis

There are tests and procedures in diagnosing hearing loss.

Complete Physical Exam And History

The doctor will conduct a physical exam and history taking. He will ask you about the medicines you are taking, the history of events leading to the hearing loss and an ear examination will also be conducted.

General Screening Tests

The doctor will perform hearing loss tests such as tuning fork tests, and audiometer tests.

8Treatment

The treatment of hearing loss depends mainly on the underlying cause of the condition. For those people suffering from permanent hearing loss, they are given supportive care to make daily living easier.

Ear Wax Blockage Removal

An impacted cerumen may cause some degree of hearing loss and when the doctor has removed this, you may feel and can hear better.

Hearing Aids

When you have a hearing problem, a hearing aid can help you hear better. Millions of people are using hearing aids and more can benefit from them, as long as they’re made available especially in third world countries where they are really expensive.

A hearing aid is an electronic device that contains an amplifier, microphone, battery and a loudspeaker. This increases the volume of sound that enters the ears so you can hear clearly.

Surgery

Surgery is another option for hearing loss treatment. The doctor can perform a surgery if you had a traumatic brain injury, or you had recurrent infections in the ear to drain the canals from fluids or pus.

Cochlear Implants

Cochlear implants are for people with severe hearing loss. It compensates for the parts of the ear that have stopped working or has been damaged.

9Prevention

To promote healthy hearing and prevent permanent hearing loss, there are some measures you can do. This will ensure that you will not lose your sense of hearing, which is an important part of life.

Avoid Too Much Noise

As early as now, you should take care of your ears by not listening to too much loud noise. If you live in a noisy environment, you can soundproof your home. Avoid listening to loud music, especially while wearing your earphones. Moreover, limit your exposure to power tools like drills and saws. You can actually buy protective ear plugs while at work.

Use Ear Protection

There are many ear protection devices available today. You can use them at work, if you work in a loud environment like factories or construction sites, during concerts or while commuting to work.

Ask Your Doctor About Ototoxic Medications

If you’re prescribed an ototoxic medication, ask your doctor for warning signs to observe. If possible, ask for an alternative medication that has the same effect as the one first prescribed. 

10Noise Induced Hearing Loss

Noiseinduced hearing loss is a hearing problem or impairment resulting from exposure to loud sound. Though listening to music is safe once in a while, listening to loud music and sounds, in the long run, could damage your ears.

Try to lower your volume when you’re listening to the radio, watching the television, listening to music or protect your ears in concerts by wearing protective ear devices.

For those working in loud environments, wear ear plugs or protective headphones. This will ensure that your ears are healthy and will not be damaged by loud noises. Keeping your ears healthy by these simple measures will prevent a permanent hearing loss that could take a toll on your life.