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What are the early signs of hearing loss? (Symptoms, Causes, Treatment)

Hearing loss statistics

Let’s look at a few numbers first:

  • Globally, 1.5 billion people suffer from some degree of hearing loss out of which around 430 million people require rehabilitation services for the treatment.
  • It is estimated that by 2050 nearly 2.5 billion people will have some degree of hearing loss and at least 700 will require hearing rehabilitation.
  • Hearing loss could occur because of various factors including genetic causes, complications at birth, chronic ear infections, infectious diseases, use of ototoxic medicines, exposure to loud sounds, and aging.
  • Over 1 billion young adults are at risk of permanent hearing loss due to unsafe listening practices.
  • In children, almost 60% of hearing loss is due to underlying ear and birth complications. And the good news is that these complications can be prevented through public health measures.

Source: WHO

 Hearing loss – also called the decreased hearing, deafness, conductive hearing loss, and loss of hearing – is when you are unable to hear sound in one or both of the ears, either partially or wholly. It is a chronic condition mostly.

Understanding the Basics

The three main parts of the ear are:

  • Outer ear
  • Middle ear
  • Inner ear

Hearing loss begins when sound waves pass through the outer area to the eardrum, which is a thin piece of skin between the middle and outer ear. When the sound waves reach the eardrum, it tends to vibrate. Further, the three bones of the middle ear are called the ossicles. The eardrum and the ossicles conjoin to elevate the vibrations of the sound waves as they move to the inner ear

When the sound waves reach the inner ear, they travel through the fluids of the cochlea. The cochlea, which has nerve cells with millions of miniature hair attached to them, helps convert the sound waves into electrical signals that travel to your brain. The brain interprets these electrical signals as sound. Different sound vibrations produce different reactions in these tiny hairs, indicating different sounds to the brain. 

What are the early signs of hearing loss?

Untreated hearing loss often leads to severe situations later on in life. You are more likely to stay isolated, have a poor memory for the damage it causes to the nerves around the brain

To get diagnosed early, look for any of the sounds mentioned below and talk to your doctor about getting a hearing diagnostic test. 

  • Sound which is stifled or unclear in children. With aging, the inner ear which is related to hearing and the cells that detect the high-pitched sounds wear out naturally. This can make it hard to understand anyone with high-pitched sounds, like those of children and women. This is why you may not hear sounds such as microwave beep or the crickets chirping at sunset if your hearing is partially working.
  • Feeling tired, especially after a social gathering. When you are not able to hear all the sounds of speech, your brain has to adjust to the gaps to make sense of what everyone is saying. It requires a great deal of focus, especially when more than one person is speaking at a time. All these efforts may lead you tearing after social events, if that is the case, you may need to consult your doctor.
  • You read lips more than making eye contact. When our sense organs do not work well like normal, the brain makes up for it by using more of another sense, which is eyesight. It is common to see people noticing your lips when they can’t hear you properly. You can always feel the sound even if you cannot listen to it. If this is the case happening with you right now, it’s time you should think of consulting an audiologist.
  • You cannot hear voices in noisy places. Does the background noise in the environment make it hard for you to understand what others are saying? The background noises at crowded places are generally low-pitches while the letters such as “s” and “f” are high-pitched. If your brain processing has become slow, you probably hear the background noise better than what others are saying to you. One of the main factors to this brain processing is the age-related changes in the body.
  • You are hearing it loud. When you watch a television show, there is a mix of dialogue, sound effects, music, altogether. If you are hearing bass tones better than high tones, the music can affect several parts of the speech. To understand them clearly, you are generally increasing the volume and if other people in the house are complaining about this too, it’s time you should get yourself checked.
  • Your ears are choked. Probably the wax or fluid in your ears is making it hard for you to hear it out. So it is important to get things wiped out in the first place. But if your doctor tells you that it is not the ear wax that is troubling, then it is time you should get indulge in a hearing test. Aging affects how our brain perceives voice, which may look like your ears are choked or clogged with wax or fluid.
  • You notice tinnitus, or ringing in the ears. While tinnitus doesn’t cause hearing loss, the perceived sound can be distracting and make it hard to concentrate on other sounds.

What are the causes of hearing loss?

The three basic types of hearing loss are caused by different factors. These three are:

  • Conductive hearing loss (involves outer or middle ear)
  • Sensorineural hearing loss (involves inner ear)
  • Mixed hearing loss (combination of the two)

1. Conductive Hearing Loss

Conductive hearing loss occurs when the sounds are not able to travel from the outer ear to the eardrums and the bones of the middle ear. Usually, for an individual with conductive hearing loss, it is hard to understand or hear soft sounds. Conductive hearing loss is not permanent and you can always get better with the right medical interventions. The treatment includes medicines, surgery (such as a cochlear implant). 

The general causes of conductive hearing loss include:

  • ear infections
  • allergies
  • swimmer’s ear
  • wax buildup in the ear

Sometimes scarring of the ear canal, tumors, or the deposition of foreign objects in the ear can also cause hearing loss.

2.Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SNHL)

Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when there is underlying damage to the ear structures or in the nerve pathways to the brain. This type of hearing loss results in hearing even normal or loud sounds appear unclear. 

The underlying causes of SNHL can be:

  • congenital disabilities that alter the structure of the ear
  • aging
  • environment in which you work, if it is too loudy
  • trauma to the head or skull
  • meniere’s disease, which is related to the inner ear and that affects hearing and balance
  • acoustic neuroma, a noncancerous tumor that develops on the nerve that connects the ear to the brain called the “vestibulocochlear nerve”
  • infections

Infections such as mumps, scarlet fever, meningitis, measles can also damage ear nerves and lead to SNHL. 

It’s also worth noting that there are certain medications such as ototoxic that can also lead to SNHL. Several over-the-counter painkillers or medications can affect hearing loss to a large extent. So, if you are taking any of these medications, talk to your doctor about the same.

3. Mixed Hearing Loss

Mixed hearing loss is the simultaneous development of both conductive hearing loss and SNHL.

How can you diagnose hearing loss?

There are two types of newborn hearing tests:

  • Automated auditory brain response. This is done using soft earphones on your baby’s ears and sensors on their heads. Then, with the help of a machine, the hearing nerve’s response is checked for soft tones.
  • Otoacoustic emissions. A tiny probe inside the ear canal measures the echo from soft noises played into the child’s ears.

If your child is growing and showing the signs of hearing loss, talk to a pediatrician. Screening is usually the same for both children and adults.

The doctor may refer to a hearing specialist called an otolaryngologist or otologist. They’ll begin with a medical history and do a physical exam of your or your child’ ears.

Are hearing loss and deafness the same?

It is important to learn the distinctive facts between the different levels of hearing loss.

  • Hearing loss: It is actually a reduced ability to hear sounds, in the same way, as normally others do. 
  • Deafness: This is a severe form that occurs when a person cannot understand speech through hearing, even if the sound is louder.
  • Profound deafness: Profound deafness is a total lack of hearing.

How to prevent hearing loss?

The following measures will help prevent hearing loss and avoid the conditions that may appear with age.

  • Protect your ears. Reducing the intensity and duration of your noise exposure is the best thing you can do to prevent your ears. If you are surrounded by a noisy work environment, it is better to use plastic earplugs or glycerin-filled earmuffs to help protect your ears. 
  • Have your hearing test done frequently. It is good to consider regular hearing tests if you work at such a place. Even if you have lost some hearing, you can still take these measures to prevent complete hearing loss. 
  • Avoid recreational risks. Activities such as hunting, listening to rock concerts, using power tools, etc can damage your hearing sense, if done frequently. Also, turning down the music volume will help relax your ear nerves.

What is the treatment for hearing loss?

Treatment usually depends upon the intensity and the type of hearing loss. There is no single therapy that may help everyone but a combination of measures, medicines, surgeries, etc. Your doctor may determine the type of hearing loss treatment you need based on how much hearing you have lost, your lifestyle, and other factors. 

The treatment options usually include:

Hearing aids

Hearing aids amplify sound and make them convenient to hear. They do cut down any background noise that may obstruct the hearing. 

These machines are fit inside the ears and usually cannot be seen by others. You can take them out while you sleep, shower, or swim. Extended-wear hearing aids are just another edition that is made of soft material. Your doctor will place them in your or your child’s ears, and they can stay there for months. 

Removing wax blockage

Earwax blockage is the process of removing earwax using a small tool or a suction device. 

Surgical procedures

In some cases, a person may require surgery to improve hearing loss. These surgeries may relate to abnormalities of the eardrum or bones of hearing (ossicles). Repeated infections in your ears with fluid, can be treated using small tubes that help your ears drain.

Cochlear implants 

This is required in cases when you have lost hearing to a severe extent and conventional hearing loss is not working on you. A cochlear implant detours damage or stimulates the hearing nerve. 

Final words

If you or anyone in your family has the signs related to hearing loss, it is time to get screened and seek medical attention. Or you can let us know. We, at Quality Hearing Care, are always there to help you out. Contact us today to know more. 

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