What Are the Symptoms and Causes of Hearing Loss?
Hearing is integral to quality of life and can drastically impact your emotional, mental, cognitive and overall health. Hearing loss is a very real concern for most aging adults, and while the degradation of this sense is often considered a common part of aging, hearing loss isn’t something to be dismissed as a fact of life.
According to the Hearing Loss Association of America, it takes the average patient seven years to seek treatment for their hearing loss. This delay in diagnosis and treatment may be due to some ambiguity surrounding hearing loss. Many patients can identify instances in which they suddenly can’t hear in one ear – but what about the moments that aren’t so cut and dry? Hearing loss, especially age-related, has a number of symptoms and accessory causes to be on the lookout for.
The Most Common Types of Symptoms
Symptoms of hearing loss present themselves in a number of ways, but many patients find that hearing loss has a significant impact on their social lives. Those suffering from hearing loss frequently ask others to repeat themselves in conversation, or have trouble understanding exchanges that take place in loud or busy environments, like restaurants. Other social and recreational signs of hearing loss can involve a constant need to turn up the television or radio, or missing important pieces of information in business meetings or other appointments. It can be incredibly frustrating to experience hearing loss in a social setting. If you find yourself having difficulty understanding spoken words, schedule a hearing consultation to get your hearing tested.
Another major symptom of hearing loss is tinnitus, or a ringing in the ears. Tinnitus affects 50 million people in the USA and is most often associated with age-related hearing loss, a progressive degenerative disorder. Tinnitus might sound like a roaring, clicking, hissing, buzzing, or ringing in the ears that is worsened at night, during exposure to loud noises, when you have impacted cerumen (ear wax), or in situations where you are not distracted or engaged with other stimulus. If you think you suffer from tinnitus, an audiologist will be able to diagnose and treat the condition.
Hearing loss has a lot of symptoms, but age isn’t the only culprit. There are several risk factors and causes, making it important for people to routinely get their hearing and ears checked. Hearing loss that is not related to aging can be caused by a number of factors including:
• Damage or trauma to the inner ear – Exposure to loud noises can damage the hairs and nerve cells within the cochlea that send auditory signals to the brain. When damage occurs, the signal is interrupted, and hearing loss occurs.
• Impacted earwax – A cerumen impaction can clog the ear canal and block the conduction of sound into the ear. This is among the most benign causes of hearing loss, and earwax removal will usually restore hearing.
• Ruptured eardrum – Explosive sounds, pressure changes, or the penetration of the eardrum with a foreign object (like a cotton swab) can rupture the eardrum and cause hearing loss.
• Illness – Conditions like meningitis or others that involve high fevers can cause hearing loss.
• Genetics – Heredity may be to blame for some hearing loss and will make you more susceptible to ear damage and age-related hearing loss.
Prolonged exposure to loud noises – Jobs or recreational activities that involve prolonged exposure to loud noises can cause immediate or gradual hearing loss. Activities like shooting firearms, construction work, loud concerts, or motorcycling should be performed with hearing protection to preserve ear and hearing health.
Are you concerned about your hearing health, or interested in how hearing devices can help you hear better and improve your quality of life?
The Villages Health has a team of audiologists ready to answer your questions about hearing loss.
The Connection Between Cognitive Decline and Hearing Loss
Hearing health is vital to overall wellness, and its importance only increases as we age. You may already be aware that your hearing affects your balance and your ability to communicate with family and friends, but did you know that it also dramatically impacts your brain health? In a 2017 report, hearing loss was reported as the number one modifiable risk factor to reduce the risk of dementia and other forms of cognitive decline.
Hearing loss and a decline in cognitive function have long been considered normal parts of the aging process, and while that is true, recent research indicates that both can be treated and slowed down. Understanding the connection between cognitive decline and hearing loss is the first step in seeking treatment and getting yourself on a path to lead a healthier, more active lifestyle.
How are hearing loss and cognitive decline connected?
Johns Hopkins University researched the effects of hearing loss on older adults in a study that followed a group of older adults over the span of six years. The group underwent a series of cognition tests over the course of the study, revealing that the cognitive abilities of adults with hearing loss declined 30-40% faster than those without hearing loss.
While researchers have been able to identify a link between hearing loss and dementia, there are still several theories as to how and why they are connected. There are three major theories being explored by doctors today. These are:
- Cognitive Load: When hearing loss goes untreated for too long, the brain can become exhausted and overworked from constant strain and overcompensation. When the brain is overworked for an extended period of time, it can begin to lose overall function. If you’ve ever felt exhausted and strained from spending time with family and friends in a crowded social environment, hearing loss may be a factor. Schedule a consultation with an audiologist to ensure your hearing health is protected.
- If You Don’t Use It, You Lose It: Studies have shown that brain cells can shrink or become damaged from a lack of stimulation. The brain is responsible for your ability to receive and process sounds, so when your ability to hear is damaged, the cells responsible for managing that information are left unstimulated. This cell shrinkage can contribute to dementia and other forms of cognitive decline.
- The Dangers of Social Isolation: The effects of hearing loss go beyond its impact on the body. Many people who experience hearing loss also report feelings of social isolation. When a person has trouble hearing, they may withdrawal from conversations and social situations to avoid embarrassment and frustration. This isolation can lead to an under stimulated brain, which can result in feelings of anxiety, depression, and other forms of cognitive decline.
How to protect your hearing and your brain
The good news is that it’s never too late to take your brain or hearing health into your own hands. The first step is to get a hearing screening to determine whether or not you are suffering from hearing loss. By meeting with a licensed audiologist, you can get a clinically based evaluation and customized treatment plan that addresses your hearing health needs, which may or may not involve the use of hearing devices.
Audiologists don’t just diagnose and treat hearing loss, they are qualified to address other hearing-related problems such as tinnitus, balance disorders, and more.
Visit The Villages Health Audiology to find the right hearing health provider for your unique lifestyle.
What Are the Signs of Hearing Loss in Adults?
As we age, our hair may turn gray, our golf swing may get a little weaker, and our hearing might decline. Age-related hearing loss is a gradual process. It doesn’t happen overnight and if it does, you should seek medical attention immediately! The signs and symptoms of hearing loss may be subtle – even undetectable to the untrained eye (or ear), but the compounding effect will eventually become impossible to ignore. According to the Hearing Loss Association of America, the average patient won’t seek treatment for their hearing loss for seven years – putting them at risk for advanced hearing loss side effects such as depression, anxiety, and cognitive decline. This is why it’s important for adults to be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of hearing loss that will develop as we age.
If any of these symptoms sound familiar, schedule a hearing screening with an audiologist to determine the type and degree of your hearing loss to begin developing the right treatment plan for you.
- Difficulty hearing or understanding high-pitched sounds. Aging can degrade the cochlea, an organ of the inner ear that helps you hear. The cells and cilia within the inner ear are often the first to fail – which makes it difficult to pick up on higher pitched sounds, like the voices of women and children, whistles, birds chirping or even some electronic devices. This sign can be as subtle as the sounds being muffled, or as apparent as a complete inability to detect the tones.
- Social events are mentally exhausting. If you find yourself struggling to keep up or engaged in conversations that take place in loud or crowded spaces like bars or restaurants, you may be suffering from some hearing loss. Background noise registers at the lower end of the pitch spectrum. When these blend with the higher pitched sounds of voices and chatter – you will not only have trouble hearing the full conversation – but your brain will try to compensate by filling in the gaps. This compensatory processing is mentally taxing and will quickly take the fun out of going out with friends and family.
- You have a ringing or buzzing in your ears. A precursor of hearing loss is tinnitus, or a ringing in the ears. Tinnitus can precede hearing loss as well as accompany it – so be on the lookout for prolonged episodes of ringing in the ears that worsens at night or when you are not distracted by other stimuli. Tinnitus is indicative of damaged inner ear anatomy and typically coincides with progressive degenerative hearing loss, the number one sensory deficit among older adults. Don’t delay get your hearing tested and learn about FDA approved therapies for your tinnitus with up to 80% success rates.
- You’re reading people’s lips. This sign of hearing loss requires a certain element of awareness – so if you catch yourself reading someone’s lips in a conversation instead of making eye contact, you may be trying to compensate for hearing loss. In situations that make conversations difficult, like a concert – this is nothing to be worried about, but if you catch yourself doing it in quieter or more intimate settings, it may be time to talk to an audiologist.
- You’re constantly turning up the volume. If the television or radio never seem to be clear enough, and you’re always reaching for the remote to turn up the volume – you may be experiencing signs of hearing loss. When consonants and high-pitched sounds become muffled or distorted, your hearing has seen the effects of aging.
Treating your Hearing loss can be intimidating, but you’re not alone. Most Americans over the age of 65 experience age-related hearing loss. Those who seek treatment and diagnosis drastically improve their quality of life through the use of hearing devices fitted and prescribed to them by a doctor of audiology.
Call today for a free hearing consultation with a doctor of audiology at The Villages Health.
Sudden Hearing Loss in One Ear: What You Need to Know
Sudden hearing loss or deafness is a medical condition that usually affects one ear. This phenomenon is often an unexplained and rapid incidence of hearing loss that is considered a medical emergency. Sudden hearing loss in one ear can be accompanied by dizziness and tinnitus (ringing or buzzing in the ear) in one or both ears. While it is easy to write this type of hearing loss off as a side effect of allergies, sinus infections, earwax buildups, or other more mundane conditions – prompt diagnosis and treatment is imperative to maintaining total hearing health. Any delay in receiving treatment for this type of sudden hearing loss can decrease the effectiveness of treatment and put patients at risk for prolonged hearing damage.
What are the Causes of Sudden Hearing Loss?
The symptoms of sudden hearing loss extend beyond an acute episode of sudden deafness. The condition may be preceded by ear pressure, tinnitus, loss of sensation in the outer ear and dizziness up to a few days prior to the hearing loss. The cause of sudden hearing loss is yet to be determined by the medical community, but in many cases the circulation of the inner ear is restricted during the condition’s onset. Audiologists and Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialty physicians suggest that sudden hearing loss in one ear can be attributed to:
•Viral or bacterial infections
•Arteriosclerosis or circulatory disorders
•Cervical spine injury
•Middle ear infections
•Thrombosis of the inner ear’s blood vessels
It’s important to note that sudden hearing loss differs from age-related hearing loss in that it is often the body’s response to other conditions such as high cholesterol, high blood sugar, obesity, and the chronic use of nicotine and alcohol. The association of hearing loss with these risk factors means that it is important to manage your overall health in order to prevent these kinds of conditions from manifesting.
Diagnosing Sudden Hearing Loss
If you are concerned that you’re experiencing warning signs of sudden deafness or if you’ve recently lost hearing, schedule an appointment with an audiologist to diagnose and treat your condition. Sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL) can be diagnosed a hearing test and case history. This test helps determine if hearing loss is caused by sound not reaching the inner ear or if there is a sensorineural deficit. Other diagnostic tests that may be performed in diagnosing sudden hearing loss include blood pressure testing, ear ultrasound or an MRI.
The good news is that more often than not, sudden hearing loss can be treated. The faster treatment is received, the higher the chances that it will be effective. In instances in which the cause of the sudden hearing loss is not known, your doctor might prescribe corticosteroids to reduce inflammation and help the auditory system return to homeostasis.
Recognizing the warning signs and understanding the implications of untreated sudden hearing loss is the first step in the prevention of this condition. If you experience symptoms such as tinnitus, dizzy spells or ear pain, schedule an appointment with an audiologist to address your concerns before your hearing is affected. The Villages Health’s team of audiologists are medically trained to diagnose and treat a variety of disorders related to hearing loss, including sudden deafness.
Different Types of Hearing Loss
One-third of people over the age of 65 and half of the people over the age of 79 are affected by debilitating hearing loss. The prevalence of hearing loss in older adults makes it most common cause of hearing loss. The conditions and causes of certain kinds of hearing loss can be indexed under one of three categories: conductive hearing loss, sensorineural hearing loss, and mixed hearing loss. These categories are diagnostically significant, as no type of hearing loss is the same, and treatments will vary depending on hearing loss origin, location, comorbidities and more.
Sensorineural Hearing Loss
This is the most common type of hearing loss and is characterized by damage to the inner ear. Sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL) is caused by inner ear damage, specifically, to the hearing organ, the cochlea. With SNHL, soft sounds are difficult to detect, and louder noises may be muffled or distorted. Unfortunately, conditions that fall under the sensorineural umbrella are usually permanent. Age-related hearing loss is a part of the sensorineural family, along with hereditary hearing conditions. External factors that contribute to SNHL involve drugs that are ototoxic (harmful to the ear), blunt force trauma to the head and prolonged exposure to loud noises.
Audiologists are qualified to diagnose and treat sensorineural hearing conditions. Hearing devices are the most common solution for patients experiencing sensorineural hearing loss, as they amplify sound to enhance the wearer’s quality of life by allowing them to hear better and resume their everyday lives.
Conductive Hearing Loss
Conductive hearing loss is when sounds cannot reach the inner ear, and unable to pass through the outer and middle ear. Conductive hearing loss makes it difficult to hear soft sounds, and similarly to sensorineural hearing loss, muffles loud noises. Conductive hearing loss can be caused by fluid in the middle ear, ear infections, holes in the eardrum, benign tumors, earwax impactions or other blockages in the outer and middle ear. This type of hearing loss is commonly temporary and can typically be treated with medicine or surgical procedures. A common condition under this type of hearing loss is temporary hearing loss as a result of earwax impaction. This can be removed by an audiologist via suction, irrigation, or by using special instruments Audiologists are able to treat this type of hearing loss as well and have the ability to perform procedures to remove obstructions from the ear canal.
Mixed Hearing Loss
Mixed hearing loss is an issue involving both conductive and sensorineural issues. This means that mixed hearing loss caused by an issue in your outer and / or middle ear as well as your inner ear. Mixed hearing loss, for example, occurs when one is suffering from two independent conditions such as hearing loss after an explosion and fluid in the middle ear. A mixed hearing loss diagnosis is contingent upon an audiologist identifying two different hearing loss conditions occurring simultaneously.
Audiologists can address mixed hearing loss and may treat the condition with a number of different interventions to treat each root cause. For example, if you are suffering from age-related hearing loss and impacted cerumen – the audiologist may remove the earwax and begin measurements for a hearing device.
Can Hearing Loss Be Fixed or Repaired?
For many, a hearing loss diagnosis can feel devastating. Hearing loss can affect a person’s mental, physical, social and cognitive health. Permanent hearing loss caused by aging or severe damage to the ear cannot be completely cured – but there are ways to alleviate the side effects of hearing loss. While it may sound dismal to learn that types of hearing loss cannot be cured – there is a bright side. The good news is that hearing loss can be treated and made manageable. Treatments for hearing loss are largely dependent upon the type of hearing loss experienced. Some treatments are designed to correct temporary hearing loss, while others address more permanent variations of the condition.
Understanding Conductive Hearing Loss
The type of hearing loss that can usually be completely treated is conductive hearing loss. Conductive hearing loss occurs when there is a problem transferring sound waves along the ear pathway, specifically in the outer and/or middle ear. Some conditions labeled as conductive hearing loss, such as impacted cerumen (ear wax), can be completely fixed by removing the blockage from the ear canal. Of course, this isn’t the case for every instance of conductive hearing loss. Another instance of “reversible” hearing loss occurs with the presence of ear infections or other common illnesses that may obstruct or impede a person’s ability to hear. These conditions can be cleared up with antibiotics or medications that rid the body of the infection.
Understanding Sensorineural Hearing Loss
The most common type of hearing loss, known as sensorineural hearing loss, is a progressive degenerative disorder and the number one sensory deficit among the 65 plus population. The root cause of sensorineural hearing loss lies within the inner ear or sensory organ (cochlea), or even the cranial nerve associated with hearing. Due to its physiological nature, this type of hearing loss can be treated splendidly through the medical advancements of hearing technology.
Hearing Device Technologies
Up to 90% of recorded instances of permanent hearing loss can be attributed to sensorineural hearing loss, which had led to impressive developments in hearing devices and cochlear implant technology. Hearing devices are now low profile and discrete to fit the needs of today’s hearing loss patients. As the most effective way to treat hearing loss, hearing devices are the key to any hearing loss treatment plan. Audiologists have the ability to test a patient’s hearing and use Real Ear Measurements (REM) to accurately measure the performance of the hearing device objectively. Gone are the days of big, bulky hearing devices. Audiologists at The Villages Health can perform Real Ear Measurements to fit you with the right hearing device – effectively treating your hearing loss.
If you’re concerned about your hearing – don’t wait. Visit a doctor of audiology at The Villages Health Audiology. Our team of experts will test your hearing, get you fitted and work with you to create a hearing loss treatment plan that works best for your lifestyle and budget. Total hearing health is within reach, no matter where you are in your health journey.