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Hearing loss is a medical condition that over 40 million people navigate on a daily basis. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, about 1 in 8 people have some degree of hearing loss in one or both ears. This makes impaired hearing the third most common health condition that people experience. Oftentimes, hearing loss occurs gradually over time so it can go unnoticed or be ignored for quite some time. This can worsen the impairment and contribute to the development of other medical conditions. It is critical to have your hearing assessed and treated which can drastically improve quality of life. To learn more about hearing loss, please explore a few of the most common questions below!
What are the symptoms?
There are numerous symptoms of hearing loss that collectively strain communication including:
- Tinnitus which is a buzzing and ringing noise in one or both ears
- Preferring one ear over the other
- Increasing the volume on electronic devices (TV, phone, speaker etc.)
- Difficulty following conversation as sounds are muffled
What causes hearing loss?
There are various factors that can contribute to the development of hearing loss including:
- Existing medical conditions: such has cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, and obesity have been linked to hearing loss. Extensive research shows a strong correlation between medical condition and increased risk of hearing loss.
- Environmental exposure to loud noise: we can be exposed to loud sound in the workplace (millions of people work in noisy environments such as airports, train stations, arenas etc.) and/or frequently attending concerts, sporting events etc.
- Genetic history: people can inherit mutated genes that adversely impact the auditory system, causing varying degrees of hearing loss.
It is important to note that these causes can be experienced by people of all ages and backgrounds. It is commonly assumed that hearing loss is part of aging which is a misconception.
How does it actually happen?
To understand how hearing loss actually happens, it is important to know how we hear. Hearing involves a complex process that requires the work of our ears which consists of three main components:
- Outer ear: consists of the most visible part of the ear, ear canal, and ear drum which separates the outer from middle ear.
- Middle ear: consists of three connected bones (the ossicles) in addition to the eustachian tube which is responsible for maintaining pressure (and fluid) in the ear.
- Inner ear: consists of the cochlea filled with hair cells and fluid, and the auditory nerve.
The outer ear collects and absorbs sound from the environment which travels through the ear canal and lands on the eardrum. The striking of the eardrum and vibration of the ossicles which pushes the soundwaves further into the inner ear. This activates the cochlea, causing the movement of the hair cells and fluid which translates the soundwaves into electrical signals that the auditory nerve sends to the brain to process and make meaning of.
When this process is disrupted – caused by damage to any of these intricate parts – our ability to hear is impacted.
Is all hearing loss the same?
There are three types of hearing loss: sensorineural, conductive, and mixed.
- Sensorineural: the most common, accounting for 90% of the hearing loss that people experience, is the result of damage in the inner ear. Commonly caused by existing medical conditions, aging, and loud noise; this damages the hair cells in the cochlea. These hair cells do not regenerate which means that damage is permanent.
- Conductive: is far less common and is often temporary. Conductive hearing loss can be caused by ear infections, abnormal bone growths, and wax buildup. These can usually be treated with medication or surgery which can restore hearing.
- Mixed: is a combination of both sensorineural and conductive hearing loss.
These types of hearing loss can be experienced at different degrees – partial, moderate, severe etc.
How is hearing loss diagnosed?
Hearing loss is diagnosed through a test which is conducted by a member of our team. This test is non-invasive, relatively quick, and a painless process that involves responding to different sounds (played at varying frequencies). It measures any impairment, the type, and degree.
How is hearing loss treated?
The most common treatment for hearing loss is hearing aids. These small electronic devices are designed to absorb, amplify, and process sound. This significantly increases one’s ability to hear and process information.