Hearing loss is one of the biggest health concerns in the U.S. It is the third most commonly reported physical condition, following arthritis and heart disease. It affects roughly 20 percent of the American population and can strike people of all ages.
Symptoms of Hearing Loss
Hearing loss is a progressive condition that worsens over time. Symptoms appear so gradually, you may be completely unaware of your affliction for some time. Even when hearing loss is suspected, it takes an average of seven years for a person to seek medical treatment.
Knowing the signs is helpful in spurring you to take action sooner. Any of the following might indicate hearing loss:
- Frequently asking people to repeat what they have said.
- Feeling like others mumble when they speak.
- Having difficulty following conversations in which background noise is present.
- Turning up the volume on the television or radio.
- Avoiding social gatherings in noisy places.
Often, a family member or friend will be the first to notice a hearing problem. Since treatment is most effective when begun early, if you think you might be suffering from diminished hearing, do not hesitate to schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist. The sooner, the better!
Types of Hearing Loss
Hearing loss is identified by its type and degree.
Types of hearing loss are classified based on the parts of the ear that is damaged or where your hearing loss occurred. The degree of hearing loss is determined by its severity.
When you visit Heuser Hearing Clinic for hearing testing, we will determine if you have a hearing loss and explain your treatment options.
Conductive Hearing Loss
Conductive hearing loss occurs when there is an interference with the transfer of sound through the outer or middle part of the ear. Possible causes of conductive hearing loss include
- Ear infection
- Fluid in the ears
- Malformation or abnormalities of the outer or middle ear
- Impacted earwax
- Foreign object in the ear
- Perforated eardrum
- Benign tumors
Conductive hearing losses are typically treated medically or surgically. In the case that these treatments prove unsuccessful, conductive hearing loss can be treated with amplification including different types of hearing aids.
Because conductive hearing loss is rarely permanent, attention is focused upon its temporary effects on speech and language development and academic or professional performance.
Sensorineural Hearing Loss
Sensorineural hearing loss is by far the most common type and is caused by a problem in the inner ear or auditory nerves. Possible causes include:
- Noise exposure
- Head trauma
- Aging (presbycusis)
- Viral disease
- Autoimmune ear disease
- Meniere’s disease
- Malformation or abnormality of the inner ear
Sensorineural hearing losses are permanent and are treated with amplification including hearing aids, cochlear implants, bone-anchored hearing aids, personal amplification devices or other technologies depending upon the severity of the loss.
Once a sensorineural hearing loss is diagnosed, the treatment plan focuses on language development and communication needs after a treatment plan is established.
Mixed Hearing Loss
Mixed hearing loss is a combination of both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss, though it may also be considered sensory or neural. Combination hearing losses may be treated medically, surgically and/or with amplification. Neural or central losses are rare, and management may include many combinations of medical, audiological and therapeutic care.
Degrees of Hearing Loss
The degree of the hearing loss identifies the level at which the person can hear. Hearing losses are identified as:
Mild Hearing Loss
People with mild hearing losses have hearing in the 20 to 40 decibel (dB) range. The most common cause of mild hearing loss in children is middle ear fluid and/or infections, which is categorized as conductive hearing loss.
Those with mild hearing loss have difficulty hearing soft or distant speech but typically have normal speech and language development and skills. Mild hearing loss may or may not require intervention depending upon if it is chronic or acute, its severity and the patient’s lifestyle needs. For example, an adult with more limited social activities may not require assistance, but a child in a classroom will. In order to function easily in a classroom, a child’s hearing must be 15 dB or better.
Moderate Hearing Loss
People with moderate hearing loss have hearing in the 40 to 60 dB range. They will have difficulty hearing soft speech in one-on-one conversations and difficulty hearing in situations with background noise.
Moderate hearing loss requires treatment, typically using hearing aids, as well as educational services in the case of children.
Severe Hearing Loss
People with severe hearing losses can hear sounds in the 60 to 80 dB range. They can only hear sounds that are less than one foot away from their ears or very loud environmental sounds.
Intervention services are a necessity for those with severe hearing loss to communicate with others and language development. Intervention may include sign language, educational services, hearing aids, cochlear implants and classroom modifications.
Profound Hearing Loss
People with profound hearing loss may be able to hear sounds above 80 dB. They can’t hear conversational speech, though they may be aware of sound vibrations. People with profound hearing losses are considered deaf and intervention is a necessity. Intervention may include sign language, educational services, hearing aids or cochlear implants.
Treating Hearing Loss
Hearing loss treatments vary depending on the severity and type of the loss as well as the patient’s lifestyle needs. Hearing aids are by far the most commonly used hearing loss treatment by patients in Louisville, KY and worldwide. For deaf children or those with severe impairments, other treatment options are often more effective.
Hearing aids are the most common hearing loss treatment method among patients young and old alike. In most cases, hearing aids can successfully treat mild to severe hearing loss.
Behind-the-ear hearing aids are the most popular for children due to their ease of use, though there are several other hearing aid styles available as well.
A cochlear implant consists of both an internal and external portion that work together to deliver direct electrical stimulation to the auditory nerve. Cochlear implants are used for patients whose cochlear hair cells are extensively damaged, preventing sound signals from reaching the brain. They can be implanted on one or both sides depending on the person’s needs.
This treatment option is typically for children over one year who have severe to profound sensorineural hearing loss that cannot be treated with hearing aids. Cochlear implants are also effective for adults who lose their hearing abilities.
Assistive listening Devices (ALDs)
ALDs, also referred to as hearing assistive technologies (HATs), are personal listening systems that improve hearing in challenging environments, which includes when a speaker is far away, there is excess background noise or poor acoustics cause sound distortion and reverberation.
FM-systems are the most common type, though there are a number of styles available. ALDs have two parts: a microphone and transmitter, which are placed close to the speaker or sound source, and a small wireless receiver that is worn near the ear or directly connected to the user’s hearing device. ALDs are excellent for pediatric use because they improve communication access for children in adverse listening environments.
Bone-Anchored Hearing Aids (BAHA)
BAHA are osseointegrated devices ideal for people with permanent bilateral conductive or mixed hearing loss or single-sided deafness. While children are not eligible for the implant surgical procedure until age five, younger kids can wear the external processor in a soft band until they are old enough for implantation.
Auditory Brainstem Implants (ABIs)
ABIs provide electrical stimulation of the cochlear nucleus in the brainstem for patients who do not have a functioning cochlea or auditory nerve. These implants consist of new technology so it is important to note that research is still being conducted to determine candidacy and long-term outcomes, especially for young children.
Tubes are placed in patients’ eardrums when fluid accumulates in their middle ear, resulting in conductive hearing loss. The tube allows the fluid to drain out, resulting in improved hearing, and are typically left in place until they migrate outward. Tubes are often used with hearing aids for patients with chronic fluid buildups or infections.
Many cases of conductive hearing loss occur because of bacterial infections of the ear. These infections need to be controlled with medication, as they can cause long-term problems and permanent hearing loss if left untreated. Parents should be especially aware of the risk of ear infections in young children, as more than 80 percent of toddlers have experienced at least one ear infection by age three. This number reaches almost 100 percent by age five.
Call Heuser Hearing Institute at (502) 584-3573 for more information or to schedule an appointment.