Spring is here, and with it are the familiar sounds that welcome warmer weather. The birds are chirping, windchimes are blowing and lawn mowers are running. However, not everyone may have the luxury of hearing these simple sounds that we often take for granted. Hearing loss can impact anyone, from infant to elderly, so it’s important that we bring awareness to this impairment that affects so many around us.
Causes of Hearing Loss
Just like we found with heart disease and glaucoma earlier this year, one cause for hearing loss does not fit all cases. The American Academy of Audiology reports that there are three types of hearing loss- sensorineural, conductive and mixed.
Sensorineural hearing loss (known as SNHL) results from damage to the inner ear or the nerve responsible for hearing, known as the auditory nerve. Age, genetics, noise exposure and certain medications known to be toxic to the ear are a few causes of this type of hearing loss. Unfortunately for those who do have this form of hearing loss, it’s often permanent, and not treatable by medical or surgical therapies.
Conductive hearing loss (known as CHL) is a result of middle and/or outer ear changes that lead to an inability of sound to travel through the ear. Common causes of this type of hearing loss can include ear infections, allergies, fluid accumulation in the middle ear and ear wax buildup. Fortunately, this form of hearing loss may be able to be corrected with medical or surgical management.
Lastly, mixed hearing loss (known as MHL) is a combination of sensorineural and conductive hearing losses. Sometimes this form can be corrected with medical and/or surgical intervention, while other cases may be permanent.
Age-Related Hearing Loss
The National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) reports that 15% of American adults (roughly 37.5 million) note some problem with hearing. Among people 20-69 years old, the greatest amount of hearing loss occurs in those 60-69 years of age. In fact, one in two people over the age of 85 suffer from hearing loss!
Hearing loss related to age is due to a combination of structural changes to the inner ear, blood flow changes, and the processing of speech and sound. This condition is known as presbycusis and typically results in gradual changes in hearing over time. Symptoms of this condition include the following:
- Frequently asking people to repeat what they say
- Missing words during conversations on the telephone
- Difficulty hearing while in noisy environments
- Turning the volume up loudly on the radio or television
The American Academy of Audiology also reports that age-related hearing loss can also be exacerbated by concurrent conditions such as diabetes, noise exposure, certain medications and poor blood circulation.
Protecting Your Ears
Unfortunately, many causes for hearing loss may be without effective treatment, and the resulting hearing loss permanent. Although there have been no preventative measures found thus far for age-related hearing loss, the Hearing Loss Association of America reports that you can at least protect yourself against noise-induced hearing loss. The use of ear plugs or muffs is an easy way to reduce noise exposure when you know you will be around loud sounds such as lawn mowers, leaf blowers, music and construction. Ultimately, avoiding potential sources of loud, damaging sounds is key to protecting your ears long term, at any age.
Always remember that hearing loss can be managed using a mixture of technology and communication strategies. It’s important to speak to your primary doctor if you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms of hearing loss. You can also find an audiologist in your area- a doctor who specializes in identifying and treating hearing loss and dizziness- by following the link www.audiology.org.
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