Hearing loss typically occurs gradually so it is often overlooked for quite some time. Impaired hearing is the third most common medical condition that Americans experience today. Though it is pervasive, impacting nearly 48 million people, it remains underdiagnosed. According to the Hearing Loss Association of America, it takes people an average of seven years to address their hearing health from the time they first start experiencing changes. This delay in treatment can not only worsen impairment, but take a toll on various aspects of life: communication, relationships, social engagement, work, and overall health. Being able to identify the signs of hearing loss and intervene early can significantly transform your health.
What Causes Hearing Loss?
Hearing loss can be caused by several factors that reduce one’s capacity to detect and process sound. Common causes include the following:
- Aging: also known as presbycusis, age-related hearing loss becomes an increased risk as one ages. This can be due to changes in ear and bone structures that can happen over time, existing medical conditions that impact older adults disproportionately, and the cumulative toll of noise on the auditory system.
- Exposure to noise: one time or consistent exposure to loud noise can permanently damage the hair cells in the inner ear. These hair cells are responsible for translating incoming soundwaves into electrical signals that then go to the brain to be further processed, which is what allows us to understand what we hear. Loud noise can cause these hair cells to lose sensitivity and/or die, causing permanent hearing loss.
- Existing conditions: several medical conditions increase the risk of developing hearing loss. This includes cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and hypertension. These health conditions affect blood and oxygen flow which is integral in the ears and to the auditory system.
- Head/neck injuries: injuries that are experienced to or around the head and neck areas can cause permanent damage that affects the structures of the ears.
Other causes include chronic ear infections and autoimmune conditions. Most hearing loss that is experienced is sensorineural hearing loss which is permanent and results from the hair cells in the inner ear being damaged.
Common Signs of Hearing Loss
Hearing loss is an invisible condition that occurs over a longer period of time so it can be challenging to recognize that it is happening. Being able to readily recognize symptoms can help you address any changes to your hearing that you could be experiencing. Common signs include:
- Tinnitus: commonly referred to as “ringing in the ears”, tinnitus is the experience of hearing noise in one or both ears when there is no external noise present. This noise is often described as a ringing, buzzing, clicking, or hissing noise.
- Frequently asking others to repeat themselves, speak up, or say things slower.
- Sounds are muffled so it is difficult to distinguish words or it sounds like others are mumbling.
- Increasing the volume on the television or other electronic devices.
- Difficulty hearing during conversations with multiple people or in environments with background noise.
- Being able to hear more clearly in one ear compared to the other.
- Lip reading during conversations or pretending to hear.
- Feeling left out during conversations, experiencing miscommunication, being tired after social interactions.
These symptoms can range from mild to more severe depending on the degree of hearing loss you are experiencing. Symptoms strain communication and can lead to social withdrawal, create tension and distance in relationships, and also affect health. Untreated hearing loss increases the risk of developing health conditions like cognitive decline, depression, and accidental injuries. If you recognize any of these symptoms, it is important to act early!
Schedule Your Appointment Today
The first step to address and prioritize your hearing health is to schedule an appointment for a hearing test. Conducted by a hearing healthcare provider, like an audiologist, hearing tests involve a painless process that identifies your hearing capacity in both ears. This establishes your hearing needs and best ways to meet those needs. Treating hearing loss provides countless benefits that are life-changing: strengthened communication, improves relationships, enhances health, and enriches daily life. Call us today to learn more and schedule your appointment!