Hearing loss is a common problem caused by noise, aging, disease, and heredity, and is not an ailment reserved for the elderly. Research shows that 17% of the U.S. population (31.5 million) suffers from some degree of hearing loss. The majority of those with hearing loss are still in the workforce or educational settings. Recent studies show 19% of children between the ages of 12 and 19 have a slight to mild hearing loss.
The National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) recently reported the following statistics on hearing loss:
- 32% of males and 20% of females begin to show signs of hearing loss between the ages of 20 and 39
- 18 percent of American adults 45–64 years old have some degree of hearing loss
- 30 percent of adults 65–74 years old have a problematic hearing loss
- 47 percent of adults 75 years old or older have a hearing loss
The NIDCD also estimates that approximately 15 percent (26 million) of Americans between the ages of 20 and 69 have high frequency hearing loss due to exposure to loud sounds or noise at work or in leisure activities.
Research recently highlighted that untreated hearing loss is directly linked to depression, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease, and when untreated hearing loss increases the risk of memory deficits and can quicken the deterioration of someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, hearing loss and tinnitus are associated with diabetes, heart disease and other medical conditions. Hearing loss and/or tinnitus can often times be the first symptom of a medical problem.
CAUSES OF HEARING LOSS
Noise exposure: Noise exposure is one of the most common causes of hearing loss in the United States. Industrial noise; including machinery, construction, transportation, and restaurant employees are most at risk for permanent hearing damage. Recreational noise; including but not limited to music, hunting, flying airplanes, using power tools, and going to sporting events are also associated with known ability to damage hearing and cause permanent hearing loss. Impact noise like gun fire or fire crackers only take one incidence to damage hearing forever.
Presbycusis: Presbycusis is hearing loss that occurs gradually, also known as age-related hearing loss. The condition affects hearing in both ears over time. Speech begins to sound muffled or unclear because the ability to hear high pitch sounds is usually affected first. One of the most common complaints with presbycusis is that it is difficult to understand in a noisy environment.
Family history (Genetics): Do your parents or grandparents suffer from hearing loss? If so there is a good chance you will also experience hearing loss. Hearing loss has a strong genetic component.
Medication: There are over 700 ototoxic medications in existence today. Ototoxic medications cause ringing in the ears (tinnitus), hearing loss and balance disorders to many who take these drugs. Chemo-therapy drugs are widely known to be ototoxic as well as many other life-saving drugs. Hundreds of more common prescription and over the counter drugs are also ototoxic and those taking these drugs may not be aware of their potential damage. Aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, diuretics, beta-blockers, and calcium-channel blockers, etc… have all been linked to tinnitus, hearing loss and even balance disorders.
Disease: Many ear problems such as ear infections and excessive ear wax cause temporary hearing loss, but many disorders of the ear lead to permanent hearing damage. Viruses are the most common cause of unknown permanent hearing loss. Symptoms can include tinnitus, vertigo, hearing loss and nausea. Other more serious disease can cause or be a contributing factor to hearing loss. Multiple Sclerosis, auto-immune disorders, tumors, stroke and diabetes are all known disorders that can have associated hearing loss.
Head Trauma: A blow to the head, a fall, or a concussion can lead to permanent hearing loss. The hearing loss can be conductive, sensorineural or a combination depending on area that is damaged.
TYPES OF HEARING LOSS
There are generally four types of hearing loss that can occur. Each is treated differently and has different consequences and results of treatment.
Conductive Hearing Loss: Conductive hearing loss is caused by any condition that blocks or impedes the transmission of sound through the middle ear. The result is a reduction in the sound intensity (loudness) that reaches the hearing nerve. Generally, conductive hearing losses can be medically treated and resolved. Some cases may not completely resolve and may require hearing assistance. Outcomes are generally very good for those with conductive hearing loss as it is only a volume issues that needs resolution because the nerve is unaffected.
Sensorineural Hearing Loss: Sensorineural hearing loss results from damage to the auditory nerve and/or hair cells. Often, the cause cannot be determined. It is typically irreversible and permanent. Lack of clarity is the overwhelming problem with sensorineural hearing loss. Loudness is also an issue, but it is clarity of speech that hinders the most. The treatment for sensorineural hearing loss is amplification through hearing aids or other assistive technology.
Mixed Hearing Loss: A mixed hearing loss is a combination of a conductive and a sensorineural hearing loss. Hearing aids can be beneficial for persons with a mixed hearing loss.
Central Hearing Loss: Often caused by stroke or a processing disorder. Central hearing loss may not cause a problem with hearing sounds, but may instead cause an issue with understanding and using the information that is sent to the central pathways.