Hearing Loss: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

August 2, 2012

By Joan McKechnie

Hearing loss information

International Symbol of Deafness courtesy of State of Rhode Island

Hearing loss is not a topic that most people feel comfortable disclosing, and the true figure of the number of hard of hearing was unknown up to a few years ago.

In 2008, the Kochkin’s 2008 survey (MarkeTrak VIII) which surveyed 80,000 members of the National Family Opinion (NFO) panel estimated that 35 million Americans show symptoms of hearing loss.

The study further estimates that by the year 2025 this figure will exceed 40 million. It is therefore important that more and more information is shared on the topic of hearing loss to ensure that quality of life is not unnecessarily affected and when possible, measures are taken to reduce the likelihood of hearing loss.

The two most common reasons for hearing loss amongst the 35 million are thought to be age related (medically known as presbyacusis) and noise induced hearing loss (commonly abbreviated to NIHS). These two causes are almost identical to causes in most western world countries. Figures are set to rise due to people living longer (age related hearing loss) and exposure to more noisy events during their lifetime (NIHS).

What Causes Hearing Loss?

The two main causes of hearing loss are for two quite distinct reasons explained below. The level of hearing impairment is measured against normal hearing so the degree of loss often varies from one person to the next. In some cases it is merely a distraction easily overcome by making adjustments, in other cases it is a life-changing event.

Causes of Age-Related Hearing Loss

This type of hearing loss is completely natural. To put it in perspective, it is a gradual deterioration in hearing ability due to the ageing process that our body undergoes. In fact, it often starts from in our 40s, though the gradual deterioration means that it is not apparent until later on in life.Most people as they mature will experience some degree of hearing loss, though its level and therefore its impact on their quality of life will vary.

Our hearing is based on the workings parts within the ear that each play an important sensory role allowing the capture of sound and its delivery to the brain to translate into meaningful information. Most crucial, when it comes to age related hearing loss, are the thousands of tiny hair cells that inhabit the inner ear. These are tasked with capturing external sound waves that are delivered to the brain. As we grow old, these hair cells whither in quality. If enough have deteriorated, the result is hearing loss. As hearing loss develops it may become difficult to hear sounds at higher pitches.

Common Symptoms of Age-Related Hearing Loss

  • A growing difficulty to hear in a noisy environment
  • High-pitched sounds such as “s” or “th” are hard to distinguish from one another
  • Certain sounds seem overly loud
Hearing exam, Hearing loss information

Hearing Exam. Photo by Flavia Costa

Causes of Noise Induced Hearing Loss

Contrary to the natural deterioration in hearing ability causes by ageing, NIHS is caused by prolonged exposure to harmful noise. In a similar manner to the previous type of hearing loss the affected parts are the inner ear hair cells that are unnaturally damaged.

The degree of resultant hearing loss caused by noise induction will depend on factors such as: how long the exposure lasted for and how loud the noise. Therefore the level of hearing loss will vary from one person to the next. Measures to reduce its effects include common sense steps such as wearing hearing protection (often at work) and avoiding noisy areas along with sensible volume levels of personal music systems.

What are your options if you suspect you or someone you know may have some degree of hearing loss?

As with any medical condition, your first point of call is to seek medical diagnosis from a health provider. In this case it will take the shape of a hearing test. The test is normally a pure tone based test and may include a speech-in-noise check that uses different types of background noise. A hearing test is available to book from your local hearing center and from your family doctor (in its basic form).

Once the precise cause and level of hearing loss is determined you will be offered a number of options that work on the principal of managing the condition using modern digital means.

The most common are hearing aids, a group of microcomputers that fit inside or outside the wearer’s ear and are tasked with amplifying external sound. Another group comprise of daily devices that have been adopted for use by the hard of hearing. Examples include amplified phones as well as cell phones, amplified alarms and aids designed to amplify the sound of a TV. Relief often comes from using a number of aids as each is slightly better suited for a particular situation.


About The Author: Joan McKechnie has a BSc Hons in Audiology & Speech Pathology and works for Hearing Direct, a UK based company of hard of hearing products. You can follow Hearing Direct on twitter or join on Facebook.



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