One in every 10 Americans reports having a hearing impairment, according to a recent MarkeTrack survey. With over 31.5 million Americans suffering from the effects of hearing loss, it ranks as the third most prevalent treatable disabling condition behind arthritis and hypertension. Hearing loss is NOT a sign of old age. Actually, it is the reverse of what most people think. According to the Better Hearing Institute, the majority (65 percent) of people with hearing loss are younger than 65. There are more than six million people in the U.S. between 18 and 44 with hearing loss, and nearly 1.5 million are school age.
It is true that the prevalence of hearing loss increases with age as one in three individuals over 65 suffer from hearing a impairment. This is most commonly due to the cumulative effects of noise exposure over time. Most hearing losses progress gradually, and the symptoms can emerge slowly. The main causes of hearing loss are excessive noise (loud noise at work, hobbies, etc.), followed by aging (presbycusis), infections (otitis media), injury to the head/ear, genetic hearing losses in infants, and ototoxic drug reactions/cancer treatment (i.e. antibiotics, chemotherapy, radiation).
Because hearing loss can occur so gradually over time, when should you be examined? The answer is NOW. Get a baseline diagnostic test done even if you don’t have any concerns about your hearing. This test can be compared with future tests to monitor the progression of hearing loss, if any. If you experience any signs of hearing loss listed below, it is highly recommended to complete a baseline hearing examination soon.
Signs of Hearing Impairment
You might have a hearing loss if:
• You require frequent repetition (“What?”, “Pardon me?”, “Please repeat.”).
• You think other people sound muffled or like they’re mumbling.
• You have difficulty hearing in noisy situations, like restaurants or crowded rooms.
• You have trouble hearing children and women.
• You have your TV or radio turned up to a high volume.
• You answer or respond inappropriately in conversations.
• You feel stressed out from straining to hear what others are saying.
• You have a family history of hearing loss.
Types of Hearing Impairment
There are three basic types of hearing loss: Sensorineural, Conductive, and Mixed hearing loss.
Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when there is damage to the inner ear, known as the cochlea, or to the nerve pathways from the inner ear to the brain. Sensorineural hearing loss cannot be medically or surgically corrected. It is a permanent loss. Sensory losses involve a reduction in sound level, or ability to hear faint sounds, but also affect speech understanding, or ability to hear clearly. This is the most common type of hearing loss.
Conductive hearing loss occurs when sound is not carried efficiently through the outer ear canal to the eardrum and the tiny bones, called ossicles, of the middle ear. Conductive hearing loss usually involves a reduction in sound level, or the ability to hear faint sounds. This type of hearing loss can often be medically or surgically corrected. A common conductive hearing loss is caused by ear wax impaction.
Mixed Hearing Loss is a conductive hearing loss that occurs in combination with a sensorineural hearing loss. In other words, there may be damage in the outer or middle ear and in the inner ear or auditory nerve.
If you experience any of the symptoms of hearing loss mentioned above, seek professional help immediately. Your sense of hearing is vital to staying connected with the world around you.