Millions of Americans struggle with hearing loss on an annual basis, yet it remains a topic that’s only vaguely discussed outside of medical circles. If you believe you’re suffering from some degree of hearing loss – or if those around you pointed it out – it may be time to consider what’s happening and how you can avoid further damage.
What is Hearing Loss?
Put simply, hearing loss has occurred when your ability to hear is reduced below the normal threshold for individuals in your age group. Hearing loss makes it more difficult to hear sounds and/or articulate what people are saying. But to understand how hearing loss occurs, you have to begin by ensuring you have proper knowledge of the anatomy of the ear.
According to Mayo Clinic, “Your ear consists of three major areas: outer ear, middle ear and inner ear. Sound waves pass through the outer ear and cause vibrations at the eardrum. The eardrum and three small bones of the middle ear amplify the vibrations as they travel to the inner ear. There, the vibrations pass through fluid in a snail-shaped structure in the inner ear (cochlea).”
Inside the cochlea, there are thousands of tiny hairs attached to nerve cells. These microscopic hairs translate sound vibrations into electrical signals that are instantaneously transmitted to the brain, where they’re then turned into sound.
While all hearing loss results in a lowered ability to hear sounds, not all hearing loss can be lumped together in one big category. There are numerous types, including sensorineural hearing loss, noise-induced hearing loss, conductive hearing loss, mixed hearing loss, bilateral hearing loss, sudden hearing loss, hidden hearing loss, etc. In order to provide a proper diagnosis, a medical doctor must explore both the symptoms and the causes behind the condition.
4 Common Causes of Hearing Loss
With so many different types of hearing loss, it’s helpful to understand common causes.
Exposure to Loud Noises
The most common cause of hearing loss in young and middle-aged adults is exposure to loud noise. This includes both acute exposure – caused by something like a sudden gunshot or standing next to a loud speaker at a concern – and chronic exposure – like being exposed to loud equipment on a daily basis over the course of many years.
Most people assume they can simply wear earplugs to avoid the negative ramifications that come with exposure to loud noises, but these products aren’t invincible. In fact, there’s currently a substantial lawsuit against 3M Combat Arms Earplugs, in which an alleged design defect is responsible for hearing loss in as many as 3 million veterans nationwide.
Buildup of Earwax
The best-case scenario is that hearing loss is simply the byproduct of earwax buildup. In these cases, earwax gradually accumulates in the ear canal and prevents the proper conduction of sound waves. A simple and painless procedure in your doctor’s office can flush out the excess wax and restore hearing.
Ear Infections and/or Abnormal Growths
While not common, ear infections can cause hearing loss. This includes infections in the outer or middle ear. You’re more likely to suffer hearing loss if you have multiple ear infections over a short period of time. Abnormal bone growths and/or tumors can also prevent the proper transmission of sound waves, resulting in temporary or permanent hearing loss.
“Age-related hearing loss (presbycusis) is the loss of hearing that gradually occurs in most of us as we grow older. It is one of the most common conditions affecting older and elderly adults,” NIH.gov explains. “Approximately one in three people in the United States between the ages of 65 and 74 has hearing loss, and nearly half of those older than 75 have difficulty hearing.”
Many different factors can contribute to hearing loss as we age. Sometimes it’s the result of years of exposure to loud noises, while other times health conditions like high blood pressure or diabetes can contribute to the deterioration of hearing.
Seeking Treatment and Finding Answers
Don’t let hearing loss go undetected for too long. Left untreated, it will get worse over time. Make an appointment to see a doctor today so that you can get the medical advice you need to make smart care-related decisions. Your ears are among your most powerful assets. Don’t neglect them!