Hearing Loss

Routine hearing screening is now recommended for everyone over the age of 50.

Hearing loss can have several negative impacts on a person’s health and well-being. It can lead to social isolation, communication difficulties, decreased quality of life, and even psychological issues such as depression and anxiety.

Additionally, untreated hearing loss has been associated with cognitive decline and an increased risk of dementia. Studies have suggested that the brain’s ability to process sound may be compromised when hearing loss goes untreated, potentially leading to accelerated cognitive decline.

Hearing Loss Facts and Figures:

  1. Approximately 466 million people worldwide have disabling hearing loss, as reported by the World Health Organization.
  2. In the United States, around 15% of adults report hearing loss.
  3. Age is a significant factor, with one in three people over 65 experiencing hearing problems. 
  4. Noise-induced hearing loss is a significant concern, with around 1.1 billion young individuals at risk due to exposure to high noise levels.
  5. Communication barriers resulting from hearing loss can lead to social isolation, lower educational attainment, and reduced employment opportunities.

How We Hear:

  1. The process of hearing involves several steps. Sound waves are collected by the outer ear (pinna) and directed into the ear canal.
  2. Sound waves enter the ear, reaching the eardrum and causing it to vibrate. 
  3. The vibrations are transmitted through the three tiny bones in the middle ear: the anvil (incus), the hammer (malleus), and the stirrup (stapes).
  4. The stirrup bone passes the vibrations to the fluid-filled cochlea in the inner ear.
  5. Within the cochlea are tiny hair cells that convert this mechanical energy into electrical signals. These signals are then transmitted along the auditory nerve to the brain, which interprets them as sound.

Types of Hearing Loss:

Conductive Hearing Loss

Conductive hearing loss occurs when sound waves cannot efficiently pass through the outer or middle ear due to blockages, infections, or malformations. Conductive hearing loss is caused by problems in the outer or middle ear that prevent sound from being conducted properly to the inner ear. It can result from ear infections, tumors, impacted earwax, or structural abnormalities like a perforated eardrum. Individuals with this type of loss might experience a reduction in sound level or difficulty hearing faint sounds. Luckily, conductive hearing loss is often treatable with medication or surgery.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Sensorineural hearing loss occurs due to damage to the inner ear or the neural pathways that carry sound to the brain. It’s often caused by aging, exposure to loud noise, genetics, or diseases like meningitis. Individuals with SNHL may find it hard to hear soft sounds and perceive louder sounds as muffled. Sadly, this type of hearing loss is typically permanent as the damage to hair cells or nerves is irreversible.

Mixed Hearing Loss

Mixed hearing loss is a combination of sensorineural and conductive hearing loss, meaning that problems exist in both the inner and outer or middle ear. This could occur if someone with age-related sensorineural hearing loss also developed an ear infection, for instance. The treatment approach for mixed hearing loss depends on the underlying causes and may involve a mix of medical interventions, surgery and hearing aids.

Sudden Hearing Loss

A sudden and unexplained reduction in hearing that occurs in one ear over a span of just a few hours or days, is considered a medical emergency and should be promptly evaluated by a healthcare professional, when possible an ear, nose, and throat specialist. Sudden hearing loss can be caused by a condition known as sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSNHL). The exact cause of SSNHL is not always clear, but it may be linked to viral infections, vascular issues, autoimmune diseases, or trauma. Early diagnosis and intervention with treatments like corticosteroids or antiviral medications can improve the chances of hearing recovery, although outcomes vary, making swift medical evaluation crucial in addressing this condition.

Causes of Hearing Loss:

  1. Aging is the most common cause of hearing loss, known as presbycusis. It typically involves a gradual loss of hearing due to changes in the inner ear.
  2. Exposure to loud noises, such as prolonged exposure to loud music, occupational noise, or explosions, can lead to noise-induced hearing loss.
  3. Certain medical conditions, such as otosclerosis, Meniere’s disease, and infections like otitis media, can contribute to hearing loss.
  4. Genetic factors, head trauma, certain medications (ototoxic drugs), and tumors can also cause hearing loss.

Signs You Might Have Hearing Loss:

  1. Difficulty understanding speech, particularly in noisy environments.
  2. Frequently asking people to repeat themselves.
  3. Struggling to hear high-pitched sounds, such as doorbells or telephone rings.
  4. Turning up the volume of the radio or television to excessive levels.
  5. Feeling that others are mumbling or speaking unclearly.

Consequences of Hearing Loss:

  1. Communication difficulties lead to social isolation, strained relationships, and feelings of frustration or depression.
  2. Reduced job performance and employment opportunities due to difficulties in understanding instructions and participating in conversations.
  3. Increased risk of accidents and safety concerns, as hearing loss can impede one’s ability to detect warning signals or environmental cues.
  4. Cognitive decline and increased risk of dementia, as hearing loss can negatively impact cognitive function and brain health.

Benefits of Hearing Aids:

  1. Improved communication and speech understanding allow individuals with hearing loss to actively engage in conversations and social interactions.
  2. Hearing aids can significantly improve the quality of life for those with hearing loss by reducing feelings of isolation, depression, and anxiety.
  3. Increased safety and awareness of the environment, as hearing aids help individuals hear essential sounds like alarms, traffic signals, and doorbells.
  4. Better job performance and professional opportunities, as hearing aids enable effective communication in the workplace.
  5. Preservation of cognitive abilities by stimulating the brain’s auditory pathways and reducing the risk of cognitive decline associated with untreated hearing loss.

Read more about Hearing Aids on our Hearing Aids Page

Frequently Asked Questions About Hearing Loss

Routine hearing screening is now recommended for everyone over the age of 50.

The treatment options for hearing loss depend on the underlying cause and type of hearing loss. Conductive hearing loss, which occurs when sound waves are blocked from reaching the inner ear, is generally more easily treated. It can often be corrected with medical interventions, such as removing earwax blockages, treating infections, or surgically repairing structural abnormalities.

Sensorineural hearing loss, which is caused by damage to the inner ear or the auditory nerve, is typically more challenging to treat. In many cases, sensorineural hearing loss is permanent and cannot be fully restored. However, hearing aids and cochlear implants are often recommended to improve hearing ability in individuals with sensorineural hearing loss.

Hearing loss can occur at any age, but it becomes more prevalent as people get older. Age-related hearing loss, also known as presbycusis, is a common condition that typically starts to manifest around the age of 60. However, it’s important to note that hearing loss can affect individuals of all ages, including children and young adults. Other factors, such as exposure to loud noises, certain medical conditions, and genetics, can contribute to hearing loss at earlier stages of life.

In some cases, managing underlying certain health conditions and avoiding exposure to loud noises can help preserve and enhance your hearing. Wear ear protection if you must be around loud noises and address hearing concerns with an ENT specialist or audiologist as soon as possible. They can provide guidance and recommend appropriate treatments, which may include hearing aids, assistive listening devices, medical interventions, or lifestyle adjustments to protect your hearing.

To prevent hearing loss, it’s essential to take proactive measures to protect your ears from excessive noise exposure. Some tips for preventing hearing loss include:

  • Use ear protection, such as earplugs or earmuffs, in noisy environments.
  • Limit the duration and volume of exposure to loud sounds, including music, concerts, and machinery.
  • Take regular breaks during activities that involve loud noise.
  • Keep the volume of personal listening devices, such as headphones or earbuds, at a safe level.
  • Avoid inserting objects, such as cotton swabs or sharp instruments, into your ears, as they can damage the ear canal and eardrum.
  • Maintain overall good health, as certain medical conditions and lifestyle factors, such as smoking and poor cardiovascular health, can contribute to hearing loss.

Yes, hearing loss does have a hereditary component. Some types of hearing loss are caused by genetic mutations or abnormalities that can be passed down from parents to their children. For example, certain syndromes like Usher syndrome, Waardenburg syndrome, and Pendred syndrome have a genetic basis and can lead to hearing loss. However, it’s important to note that not all cases of hearing loss are hereditary. Other factors, such as aging, noise exposure, infections, and medical conditions, can also contribute to hearing loss.

If you experience sudden hearing loss, it is crucial to seek immediate medical attention. Sudden hearing loss is considered a medical emergency, and prompt evaluation and treatment can increase the chances of recovery. Contact an otolaryngologist or visit an emergency department for a thorough examination. The healthcare professional may conduct tests to determine the cause of the sudden hearing loss, such as a physical examination, audiogram, and imaging studies. Treatment options may include corticosteroids, antiviral medications, or other interventions depending on the underlying cause.

Yes, there are significant potential consequences if hearing loss goes untreated. Over time, untreated hearing loss can lead to cognitive decline, mental health issues, and even increased physical health risks. Cognitive decline can occur as the brain works harder to process distorted or incomplete sound signals, which may accelerate the onset of dementia. Also, untreated hearing loss often leads to social isolation, as people may withdraw from conversations and social activities they once enjoyed due to difficulty hearing. This can result in depression and loneliness. Physical health risks include increased chance of falls and injuries, as hearing is crucial for overall balance and spatial awareness. Furthermore, hearing loss can mask other health issues that present symptoms via auditory cues, like cardiovascular disease, thereby delaying their treatment. Therefore, treating hearing loss is crucial to maintaining overall health.

Contact Us Today!

At Boulder Valley Ear, Nose & Throat Associates, we provide the highest quality patient care in a friendly, professional atmosphere. We emphasize personalized customer service, availability, efficiency, honesty and integrity, and attention to detail. We strive to do things the right way at every level, all the time. 

If you think you may have some degree of hearing loss, schedule an appointment with one of our caring and experienced ENT specialists for a full evaluation today!