If you’re a typical Midwesterner, you’re probably friendly, never met a casserole you didn’t like, and might suffer from hearing loss. But you’re not alone in that regard: hearing loss affects 48 million people across the United States, making it the third most common physical condition in the country, ranking behind arthritis and heart disease.
Understanding what causes hearing loss is the first key to living with it.
Many people consider hearing loss an inevitable consequence of aging, and while not everybody who grows old experiences hearing impairment, advancing years do rank as one of the leading causes of hearing loss. Termed presbycusis, age-related hearing loss develops gradually, affecting high-pitched sounds the most. Many people are unaware of their problem for quite some time. Presbycusis usually affects both ears and may range from mild to severe. It is the result of natural changes that occur in the inner ear over time, such as cumulative exposure to noise; hereditary factors; disease; and ototoxic medications. By the age of 65, one-third of adults experiences age-related hearing loss; this number climbs to 50 percent by the age of 75.
Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
Noise-induced hearing loss is another top cause of hearing loss, especially in the younger population. Prolonged exposure to sounds exceeding 85 decibels (dB) damages the hair cells of the inner ears, leading to hearing loss. If the sound is loud enough – a single gunshot, for instance – damage can occur instantly. Approximately 15 percent of Americans aged 20 to 69 suffer from noise-induced hearing loss. The good news? This type of hearing loss can be prevented by wearing hearing protection whenever you’re exposed to loud sounds. Custom earplugs made from molds of your ears work best. Some of the activities that put people at risk include rock concerts, sporting events, riding a motorcycle or boat, hunting, and listening to music at high volumes.
Sensorineural Hearing Loss
Presbycusis and noise-induced hearing loss fall under the broader category of sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL). Also known as nerve damage, SNHL is associated with problems in the inner ear. Other causes include heredity, trauma, disease, otosclerosis, defects of the inner ear, Meniere’s disease, and tumors. SNHL is by far the most common type of hearing loss, responsible for about 9 out of 10 cases. It is irreversible, but hearing aids are an effective treatment solution for most patients with sensorineural hearing loss.
Conductive hearing loss
Much less common, conductive hearing loss affects the outer or middle ear. Causes include fluid in the middle ear resulting from colds or allergies, ear infections, perforated eardrum, earwax, swimmer’s ear, foreign objects in the ear, poor Eustachian tube function, benign tumors, and defects in the outer or middle ear. This type of hearing loss can often be treated effectively with medication or surgery.
Looking for a solution to your hearing loss? Contact your local audiologist today!