In America, hearing loss is more common than you might think. According to the World Health Organization, by 2050, an estimated 900+ million people will have a disabling hearing loss. Even more, unaddressed hearing loss poses an annual global cost of $750 billion.
With that said, a sufficient way to deal with the effects of hearing loss is to develop an understanding of:
Below is a comprehensive guide for individuals in the Boise, Idaho area who are experiencing a loss of hearing or are concerned about hearing loss symptoms presenting in someone they care for.
What is Hearing Loss?
Hearing loss is something that occurs when an individual's ability to hear sounds is reduced. Someone can experience hearing loss when any part of the ear or auditory system is not working normally. When this happens, an individual may find it difficult to hear sound from the TV or radio or find it difficult to follow a conversation.
It's important to note that a gradual loss of hearing is common when someone grows older. This process is called presbycusis. However, hearing loss can occur unexpectedly at any age due to reasons discussed in this guide.
The Difference Between Hearing Loss and Deafness
Many people confuse the difference between hearing loss and deafness. The difference lies between the degree of hearing loss. Individuals who experience a mild to severe reduction of hearing are considered to have hearing loss. Deafness, on the other hand, is referred to as a profound hearing loss where individuals have very little hearing and potentially no hearing at all.
The Connection Between Hearing Loss and Tinnitus
Tinnitus is defined as the perception of noise or ringing in the ears. The condition is a common problem that affects about 15 to 20 percent of people. Tinnitus can occur as a stand-alone condition or be a symptom of an underlying health condition.
Tinnitus is often associated with an ear injury, allergies, circulatory system issue, acoustic tumor, however most of the time it is associated with hearing loss. While tinnitus doesn't cause hearing loss, about 90 percent of people with tinnitus have hearing loss as well. Many people do not realize that they have tinnitus and hearing loss because tinnitus tends to follow your hearing loss pattern.
Different Levels of Hearing Loss
The hearing threshold for normal hearing loss is between 0 and 25 dB. There are no perceived symptoms of hearing loss at this threshold.
Mild Hearing Loss
The hearing threshold for mild hearing loss is between 26 and 40 dB. With a mild hearing loss, individuals will have trouble hearing and understanding quiet conversation. Mild hearing loss also can cause significant hearing difficulties in the presence of background noise. Hearing aids are typically encourage with mild hearing loss, however it may not be necessary with these levels of hearing loss.
Moderate Hearing Loss
The hearing threshold for moderate hearing loss is between 41 and 60 dB. Individuals at this threshold will have difficulty understanding speech in most all listening situations. Understanding of speech will require higher volume levels. Hearing aids are strongly recommended to improve ability to hear in those with moderate hearing loss.
Severe Hearing Loss
The hearing threshold for severe hearing loss is between 61 and 80 dB. Those at this threshold level require speech to be much louder than usual. Hearing aids are necessary at this point to engage in one-on-one conversations, even when no background noise is present. Also, group conversations may be more difficult.
Severe-to-Profound Hearing Loss
The hearing threshold for severe-to-profound hearing loss is between 81 and 90 dB. At this threshold level, individuals will experience difficulty with speech, and amplification is required for comprehension.
Profound Hearing Loss
The hearing threshold for profound hearing loss is considered 90 dB or more. At this level, amplified speech comprehension is typically significantly reduced. Individuals with profound hearing loss do at times do well with hearing aids and other times require other methods of communication such as American Sign Language (ASL).
Types of Hearing Loss
Your ear is made up of three different parts: the outer ear (ear canal) middle ear (behind the eardrum and includes the malleus, incus, and stapes middle ear bones) and inner ear (the cochlea). These three parts work together to help you to hear sounds. When damage occurs to one or more aspects of the ear, this can lead to hearing loss. Here are three types of hearing loss that are important to know.
Conductive Hearing Loss
Conductive hearing loss occurs when sound is not able to get through the outer and/or middle ear. Those with this type of hearing loss find hearing soft sounds difficult while louder sounds might be muffled.
Causes of Conductive Hearing Loss
Many things can lead to conductive hearing loss. However, some of the most common causes are as followed:
- Fluid in the middle ear (usually caused by a cold or allergies)
- Poor Eustachian tube function
- Ear infection
- A hole in your eardrum
- Benign tumors
- Earwax stuck in the ear canal
- Earwax stuck in the ear canal
Sensorineural Hearing Loss
Sensorineural hearing loss or SNHL is the most common type of hearing loss. This type of hearing loss occurs when there is damage to the inner ear. Damage to the cochlea’s outer hair cells and other supporting cells within the organ of corti typically result in the inability of the auditory nerve to produce action potentials (firing of the auditory nerve). SNHL can also be related to the nerve pathways from your inner ear to your brain. Effect of SNHL include decreased audibility, decreased dynamic range, decreased frequency resolution, and decreased temporal resolution.
Causes of Sensorineural Hearing Loss
Some of the many causes of SNHL hearing loss:
- Hereditary hearing loss
- Drugs that are toxic to hearing
- An issue in the way the inner ear is formed
- Listening to loud noises such as gun fire and power tools
Mixed Hearing Loss
It is possible to have a combination of both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss. When this happens, there is damage in the outer and/or middle ear in combination with the inner ear.
Causes of Mixed Hearing Loss
Mixed hearing loss can be caused by anything that can cause conductive and sensorineural hearing loss. Example causes for mixed hearing loss may a head injury that affected the auditory system, long-term ear infection, or a hereditary hearing disorder.
Who is at Risk for Hearing Loss?
Several factors can increase an individual's risk of hearing loss. Understanding these risk factors can help you be proactive and make more informed decisions to minimize the risk of hearing loss. Here are five of the most common hearing loss risk factors to consider:
Aging is one of the most common risk factors for hearing loss. As you age, degeneration of the inner ear occurs, leading to a loss of hearing. It's important to note that hearing loss due to age is commonly found in those 65 years of age or older.
Excessive exposure to loud noises can lead to cell damage in the inner ear. Keep in mind that damage can also occur from short blasts of noise, such as from a gun.
If your work environment consists of constant loud noise, such as in a factory, and you do not wear proper ear protection, you can significantly increase your hearing loss risk.
Being exposed to recreational noise such as firearms or engines can cause immediate and permanent hearing loss.
Your genetic makeup can increase your risk of ear damage from sound or aging. If hearing loss runs in your family, you might have a gene mutation that causes hearing loss.
Some medications and chemotherapy drugs can either cause temporary or permanent damage the inner ear. High doses of aspirin, other pain relievers, loop diuretics, and antimalarial drugs can lead to temporary effects of hearing loss or tinnitus (ringing in the ear).
Symptoms of Hearing Loss
While changes in your hearing are common as you age, these changes happen gradually. If you believe you are experiencing hearing loss or are concerned about hearing loss, it is essential to know the symptoms. Here are a few common symptoms of hearing loss:
- Voices that sound muffled
- Conversations that become difficult to follow
- Finding a need to increase the volume of the tv or radio to hear
- Asking individuals to speak more slowly, clearly, and loudly during a conversation
- Asking individuals to repeat themselves
- Difficulty understanding words, especially in the presence of background noise
Can Hearing Loss be Cured?
Treating hearing loss will depend on the hearing loss condition that is present.
Conductive Hearing Loss
Conductive hearing loss, which results from an outer or middle ear condition has potential to be cured or have hearing partially restored. It will depend on the medical condition causing the hearing difficulty. Sometimes it is as simple as earwax removal and other times treatment may require surgery from an Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) physician.
Sensorineural Hearing Loss
Sensorineural hearing loss is the most common form of hearing loss and cannot be cured since it results from damage to the inner ear (cochlea). However, it is important to note that you have options available to you such as amplification, which has strongly been shown to improve quality of life.
What Are the Treatment Options for Hearing Loss?
A decrease in hearing abilities can be very challenging to overcome. Many people struggle to follow a conversation, voices are mumbled, and there is often a need to turn up volume to hear correctly. The good news is, there are various options available to help aid in the effects of hearing loss. For individuals in Boise who are experiencing a loss of hearing or believe they are at risk for hearing loss, here are some treatment options that you can consider.
Some individuals experience a temporary loss of hearing. Temporary hearing loss is often due to excessive ear wax, causing a blockage in the ear canal. An audiologist can remove the earwax from your ear by using water, also known as irrigation, and/or a small tool.
It is never a good idea to attempt to remove earwax by yourself. If done incorrectly, you can push the earwax further down and potentially cause permanent damage to your hearing.
Hearing aids are an excellent option for those experiencing hearing loss due to damage in the inner ear. A hearing aid helps to amplify sound by directing the sound into the ear canal. Here are two common types of hearing aids available.
Custom Hearing Aids
These types of hearing aids are custom fit to your ear. Depending on the custom hearing aid, some can be made to discretely be worn inside the ear canal (Completely-In-The-Canal (CIC) or Invisible-In-The-Canal (IIC)). These hearing aids are custom-fit based on a mold of your ear taken by an audiologist during your hearing aid consultation to determine the best fit. Some custom hearing aids are larger such In-The-Ear (ITE) customs, the size is selected by patient preferences and needs.
Custom hearing aids are beneficial because they fit perfectly into the outer ear and are comfortable to wear. This means that you should not have issues with the hearing aid falling out, they generally are well received by patients.
These hearing aids can be made to be discreet, making it easier to camouflage the hearing aid. Even more, ITE hearing aids provide excellent amplification and sound quality. This is due to their ability to place the place the speaker and microphone within the ear itself with is a natural filter for sound.
Behind-The-Ear (BTE) and Receiver-In-Canal (RIC) Hearing Aids
Behind-The-Ear and Receiver-In-Canal hearing aids sit behind or on top of the outer ear with tubing or a wire. The tube or wire is used to route sound down into the ear canal with the help of a custom-fit earmold or generic dome which is selected based on degree and configuration of hearing loss.
These hearing aids are generally comfortable to wear and depending on the degree of hearing loss, these hearing aids fittings are often fit so that the ear canal is “open”, meaning that we are not obstructing the ears natural hearing and providing amplification only where needed.
Implantable Hearing Devices
Implants candidacy depends on cause and degree of hearing loss involved. These options due require surgery by an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) physician. Comprehensive evaluation of hearing is required to determine candidacy for an implant. Following the hearing evaluation, an appointment with ENT for further evaluation would be required.
Cochlear Implants are an excellent option for individuals with more profound levels of hearing loss where hearing aids are provided limited benefit. Instead of amplifying sound, a cochlear implant functions to bypass the damaged parts of the inner ear and stimulate the auditory nerve directly.
Bone Conduction Device
These devices bypass the outer and middle ear via a device that stimulates the inner ear through vibration.
Bone conduction devices significantly improve sound quality due to the sound processor being in direct contact with the bone. These discrete devices are connected via an abutment that is surgically inserted into the temporal bone behind your ear, which means you can easily wear them without feeling uncomfortable.
Auditory Brain Stem Implants
An auditory brain stem implant is a hearing implant designed for individuals who cannot benefit from a hearing aid or cochlear implant due to the auditory nerve not being able to transmit neural information to the brain. This surgical implant device provides a sensation of sound to individuals would not otherwise be able to hear.
Some patients have asserted that the surgery improved their sound awareness and lip-reading ability. Some patients are even able to regain their ability to recognize sounds, words, and sentences.
How Can an Audiologist Help with Hearing Loss?
An audiologist provides services, including:
- Comprehensive adult and pediatric hearing and tinnitus evaluations comprehensive hearing evaluations
- Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD) evaluations
- Hearing loss education
- Hearing aid fittings and assistive devices
Another faucet of services provided by an audiologist is helping their patients learn how to protect hearing to help minimize and even potentially prevent hearing loss.
Additionally, audiologists can fit you for:
How Can You Communicate Effectively with Hearing Loss?
If you are experiencing hearing loss symptoms, communicating with others is likely a concern. Here are a few tips your loved ones can use to communicate with you effectively, enhance your hearing, and keep the line of communication open.
- Conversations should be held when there is not a lot of background noise present. If there is a group conversation, be sure that people talk one at a time. Practicing this method will help the individual that is hard of hearing focus on the sounds and hear words more clearly.
- Loved ones should avoid activities that make lip-reading challenging—for instance, performing activities such as eating while talking or covering your mouth with your hand. Those that are hard of hearing rely on lip-reading to help them follow conversations. Being mindful of such activities will make the process easier for them.
- It is essential to speak at a natural, steady pace. Along with this, individuals should talk more clearly to the person. Speaking louder is not always helpful.
- Using hand gestures and facial expressions can provide more information to those that are hard of hearing. Even when speaking more clearly, speech can still sound muffled or unclear. Gestures and facial expressions make it easier for individuals with hearing loss to gain clues to the conversation and make out what you are saying.
- Communicating with hearing loss is not always easy. It is important that loved ones are patient and can repeat words when necessary. Additionally, it may be beneficial to try different words if they are unable to understand them.
Why Choose Eagle Hearing to Help with Your Hearing Loss?
At Eagle Hearing, we realize that hearing loss can disrupt your daily life. We are here to help you with our innovative hearing technology, cutting edge equipment, knowledgeable staff, and our comfortable environment.
If you live in the Boise area, start by taking our free online hearing screening, or contact us today to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced audiologists, Dr. Vore or Dr. Conrad. We care about affordable hearing care and look forward to helping you find the best option to manage and improve your hearing!