What is hearing loss?
Hearing loss is when your ability to hear becomes reduced, making it more difficult to hear sounds correctly or clearly, and to determine the direction the sound is coming from. Most hearing loss is gradual and is often first noticed when you are having difficulty hearing people speaking when there is loud background noise.
Sudden hearing loss may signify something more serious, and you should absolutely consult us at your earliest opportunity. We will arrange an examination, hearing tests and referral to an ENT surgeon if appropriate.
There are three types of hearing loss; sensorineural, conductive or mixed. Sensorineural hearing loss results from damage to the inner ear or main hearing nerve. Conductive hearing loss is when the ears ability to conduct sound from the outer ear through the middle ear and into the inner ear is impeded or reduced by a variety of issues including wax accumulation in the outer ear, a perforated ear drum, or a collection of fluid in the middle ear.
Mixed hearing loss is a combination of both processes.
A hearing test may need to be conducted to determine the diagnosis. This is preferably performed by a University trained Audiologist. A referral will be provided if required.
Signs and Symptoms of Hearing Loss
Hearing loss can show in many different ways depending on the severity. Symptoms can range from difficulty hearing high pitched noises as well as speech, and its impacts can extend well beyond the actual hearing loss, to social isolation and even depression. Some of the most common signs to look for in yourself or a loved one include:
- Listening to the television or radio at an increased volume
- The perception that others are mumbling
- Difficulty hearing people on the phone
- Ringing in the ears (Tinnitus)
- Continually asking people to repeat themselves
- Social isolation
- Trouble hearing consonants
Causes of Hearing Loss
The most common cause of hearing loss is Presbycusis, also known as age-related hearing loss. This natural consequence of getting older sees hearing ability in both ears decrease over time. By the time people turn 70, more than half experience significant hearing loss.
Another common cause of hearing loss is prolonged exposure to loud noise. This can result from excessive sound levels in the workplace, recreational activities such as music concerts and the use of head phones. People of all ages can be affected by noise induced hearing loss.
Other causes of hearing loss can also include:
- Damage to the ears
- Certain diseases and syndromes
- Medications and drugs
- Head injuries
- Malformation of the ear or blockage of the ear
- Genetic factors
- Alcohol and tobacco
- TIAs or strokes
Preventing Hearing Loss
Hearing loss is a normal part of the ageing process, but there are a few simple things you can do to ensure that you hear well for as long as possible.
If you know you are subjected to noise at excessive levels in the workplace, socially or even with a personal task or hobby, you can prevent damage by using ear plugs or other noise cancelling ear ware and taking regular breaks from the noise. Extended exposure to greater than 85dB can cause permanent damage ( a petrol mower emits around 90dB).
In recreational situations, adjusting noise levels to a moderate level will significantly reduce your risks of suffering long term damage. If using ear phones, the general rule of thumb is that if the person next to you can hear it, it’s too loud.
Changes in our hearing can occur at any time and often go unnoticed. Hearing tests aren’t just for those with hearing issues, but are important to regularly check the health of our ears. Hearing tests are painless, non-invasive and are an important part of our regular medical checks.
Treating Hearing Loss
Conductive hearing loss is generally temporary and improves with medical intervention to treat the specific cause; whether it be wax accumulation, infection or a perforated ear drum
Sensorineural hearing loss can be treated but it cannot be restored. The most common treatment is with the use of hearing aids or implants.