Hearing loss is one of the biggest health concerns in the U.S. It is the third most commonly reported physical condition, following arthritis and heart disease. It affects roughly 20 percent of the American population, and can strike people of all ages.
The most common causes of hearing loss are noise exposure and aging.
Hearing loss is a progressive condition that worsens over time. Symptoms appear so gradually, you may be completely unaware of your affliction for some time; even when hearing loss is suspected, it takes an average of seven years for a person to seek medical treatment. Knowing the signs is helpful in spurring you to take action sooner. Any of the following might indicate hearing loss:
- Frequently asking people to repeat what they have said
- Feeling like others mumble when they speak
- Having difficulty following conversations in which background noise is present
- Turning up the volume on the television or radio
- Avoiding social gatherings in noisy places
Often, a family member or friend will be the first to notice a hearing problem. Since treatment is most effective when begun early, if you think you might be suffering from diminished hearing, do not hesitate to schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist. The sooner, the better!
In order to diagnose hearing loss, your doctor will review your medical history, discuss your symptoms, and give you a physical examination followed by a hearing evaluation consisting of a series of audiological tests.
Treatment will depend on your type and degree of hearing loss. A conductive hearing loss occurs when there are problems in the outer ear, ear canal, eardrum or middle ear. It can be caused by any of the following:
- Ear infection
- Fluid in the ears
- Malformation or abnormalities of the outer or middle ear
- Impacted earwax
- Foreign object in the ear
- Perforated eardrum
- Benign tumors
Conductive hearing loss is often correctable with surgery or medications (typically antibiotics). Alternatively, it may be treated with hearing aids.
A sensorineural hearing loss involves a problem with the inner ear, and is frequently referred to as “nerve deafness.” It may be caused by any of these:
- Noise exposure
- Head trauma
- Aging (presbycusis)
- Viral disease
- Autoimmune ear disease
- Meniere’s disease
- Malformation or abnormality of the inner ear
Sensorineural hearing loss can sometimes be treated with medications (corticosteroids) or surgery. More likely, hearing aids will be required.
Mixed hearing loss is a combination of both types. Treatment might involve a combination of medication, surgery, and/or hearing aids.