A little ringing in the ear. Turning up the TV a tad louder each year. Leaning in closer, saying “What, dear?” For many, these subtle nuances over time could indicate a bigger problem: hearing loss.
The Better Hearing Institute estimates that 31.5 million people report a hearing difficulty, with 30 percent of people over the age of 60 having hearing loss. But surprisingly, it also affects many people earlier in life. 65 percent of people with hearing loss are under age 65 — and one in 14 individuals ages 29-40 experience it. That said, it’s important to be aware of the signs of hearing loss at any stage and any age.
First, let’s review the types of hearing loss.
Conductive Hearing Loss
There are two general types of hearing loss: conductive hearing loss and sensorineural hearing loss. Conductive hearing loss only accounts for five to ten percent of hearing loss and involves problems with the ear canal, ear drum or the tiny ear bones behind the ear drum (the middle ear space).
Typical causes of conductive hearing loss include:
- Wax impaction in the ear canal
- A hole in the ear drum
- A genetic condition called otosclerosis
- Infection in the space behind the ear drum
This type of loss can usually be corrected medically, and if medical intervention is not possible, then hearing aids can be utilized.
Sensorineural Hearing Loss
Compared to conductive hearing loss, sensorineural hearing loss is more common. With a sensorineural hearing loss, the organ of hearing (cochlea) and/or the auditory nerve is damaged, usually permanently. This can result in a decreased perception of volume, but it may also be accompanied by a loss of clarity even when sounds, like speech, are loud enough.
Sensorineural hearing loss can be caused by excessive loud noises, disease or trauma. While cochlear implants can be treatment options for people with profound sensorineural hearing loss and medication might be used to treat sudden hearing loss, more common types of sensorineural hearing loss are treated with hearing aids.
Signs of Hearing Loss
Because hearing loss can happen slowly over time, many people are not aware that their hearing is impaired. This makes it important to know the key signs, which are often noticed by a friend or family member first. There are some social, emotional and medical cues that could indicate a hearing impairment.
You Might Have Hearing Loss if You Experience…
- Require frequent repetition
- Think that other people sound like they are mumbling
- Have difficulty hearing in noisy situations, like conferences, restaurants, malls, or crowded meeting rooms
- Have trouble hearing children and women
- Have your TV or radio turned up to a high volume
- Answer or respond inappropriately in conversations
- Have ringing in your ears
- Feel stressed out from straining to hear what others are saying
- Feel annoyed at other people because you can't hear or understand them
- Feel embarrassed to meet new people or from misunderstanding what others are saying
- Feel nervous about trying to hear and understand.
- Withdraw from social situations that you once enjoyed because of difficulty hearing
- Have a family history of hearing loss
- Take medications that can harm the hearing system (ototoxic drugs)
- Have diabetes, heart, circulation or thyroid problems
- Have been exposed to very loud sounds over a long period or single exposure to explosive noise
While it’s true that aging brings many changes to our bodies, hearing loss is not just a condition of age; it can happen to anyone at any stage of life. The good news is that for many, hearing loss can be treated and even restored in some cases. If you experience any of these signs, don’t delay in discussing them with your doctor, who can refer you to a specialist for further evaluation and help.