Hearing Loss: Symptoms And Causes
While many of us may acknowledge that our hearing may gradually decline as we grow older, it’s not something that is commonly thought of as occurring as a young adult or even in middle age - until a hearing test uncovers that our ability to hear isn’t as clear as it could be.
Hearing loss has a range of causes unrelated to our age, including working in a noisy environment, sustaining injuries, developing medical conditions or diseases, or even taking certain medications. This leads to approximately 15% of people aged over 18 years reporting difficulty hearing, and it is reported to affect twice as many men as women.
Hearing loss isn’t just a matter of asking people to repeat themselves: research has found that people with hearing loss are more likely to struggle with study or in the workplace, experience stress and frustration, and become socially isolated or withdrawn. It’s a serious concern that our hearing care team takes very seriously.
The good news is that with the support of qualified hearing care professionals, around half of all hearing loss can be treated or even prevented. This is where regular ear health and hearing checks with a hearing care professional can detect changes early before the reduced hearing starts interfering with your life.
So what causes hearing loss, what signs and symptoms can you look out for, and what can hearing care specialists do to help with hearing loss? Let’s take a closer look.
Signs And Symptoms Of Hearing Loss
As hearing loss is often gradual, many people do not realise it’s happening as the signs and symptoms may not be obvious. We recommend making an appointment with a hearing care specialist if you notice the following symptoms:
• Trouble hearing over the telephone
• Difficulty following conversations when two or more people are talking
• Frequently asking people to repeat what they are saying
• Turning the TV volume up so loudly that others complain
• Having a problem hearing when there is background noise, such as in a restaurant or cafe
• Feeling that others mumble or slur their speech
• Avoiding social situations where it may be difficult to hear or participate
• Hesitancy to talk to new people
• Often looking at people’s mouths as they speak in an attempt to lip-read
• Frustration or arguments when trying to have conversations with friends or family
• Finding it easier to hear a man’s voice than a woman’s or child’s, as high-pitch noises are often more difficult to hear than lower, deeper tones
Each person’s experience is unique, so alongside these symptoms, hearing loss can also be:
• Unilateral (in one ear) or bilateral (both ears)
• Pre-lingual (the hearing loss occurred before a person learned to talk) or post-lingual
(after a person learned to talk)
• Symmetrical (the same in both ears) or asymmetrical (different in each ear)
• Progressive (the hearing loss worsens over time) or sudden
• Fluctuating (it gets either better or worse over time) or stable (stays the same)
• Congenital (present at birth) or acquired/delayed (appears at a later point in life)
• Mild (still able to hear some speech sounds), moderate, severe or profound (unable to hear any speech sounds)
• Conductive (in the transmission of the sound), Sensorineural (Inner ear) or mixed.
Understanding Hearing Loss: How Do We Hear Sounds?
To make sense of what can cause hearing loss, we must first understand a little about the complex process involved in perceiving sounds:
- First, sound waves enter our outer ear and travel through a narrow passageway called the ear canal, which leads to our eardrum.
- When these sound waves hit the eardrum, they set it in motion. The eardrum is a paper-thin membrane that vibrates when sound waves hit it, similar to a drum.
- The eardrum sends vibrations to three tiny bones in the middle ear, which also move.
- The movements from these bones transmit sound waves into the inner ear and the cochlea, a snail shell-shaped organ filled with a fluid that moves in response to the vibrations.
- These fluid movements and vibrations are then transformed into electrical impulses by cells known as hair cells, which then travel along the auditory nerve to our brain.
- Finally, our brain processes and decodes these signals and turns them into meaningful sounds, like speech, a phone ringing, or a smoke alarm.
What Causes Hearing Loss?
There are three key types of hearing loss:
1. Sensorineural Hearing Loss
Sensorineural hearing loss sometimes referred to as sensory hearing loss, is the most common cause of hearing loss that happens when the hair cells within the inner ear or auditory nerve become malformed or damaged. Sensorineural hearing loss can affect the clarity of sounds one hears and the loudness, so language may become distorted and difficult to understand. This type of hearing loss can be caused by:
• Ageing: hair cells and other ear parts deteriorate as you age, reducing the perception of high-pitched or quiet sounds. Approximately one-third of all adults over 65 years have some hearing loss, increasing to 81% of those over 80 years and 93% of those over 90 years.
• Exposure to loud noise: from a one-time exposure to a very loud sound like a blast or from loud sounds over time. 17% of adults aged 20–69 years have suffered permanent noise-related hearing loss, which can damage the hear cells or even the eardrum itself
• Injury: including a traumatic head injury, trauma from objects being poked into an ear, sports or injuries or occasionally, changes to air pressure when flying or diving
• Exposure to alcohol, nicotine, carbon monoxide or exposure to solvents
• Illnesses or diseases, including meningitis, untreated ear infections, circulatory problems such as high blood pressure, or auditory conditions such as Meniere's disease or acoustic neuroma(benign tumours on the acoustic nerve)
• Certain medications, such as some antibiotics, pain relief medication and diuretics
• Inherited or genetic conditions: one of your parents having a genetic hearing impairment
2. Conductive Hearing Loss
Conductive hearing loss means that something in the outer or middle ear is blocking the sound waves from travelling through to the inner ear. This type of hearing loss leads to a loss of loudness so that it sounds like you’re listening to people or other sounds from a distance. Conductive hearing loss can be caused by:
• A buildup of too much wax in your ear canal
• A foreign object located in the ear canal (more common in children)
• Ear infection
• Fluid behind your eardrum, which may be otitis media, glue ear, or swimmers ear
• An abnormal growth of the hearing bones in your middle ear, known as otosclerosis
• In rare cases, conductive hearing loss may also be caused by a perforated eardrum
3. Mixed Hearing Loss
Occasionally, people can have mixed hearing loss, a combination of sensorineural and conductive hearing loss.
Because hearing loss can be caused by a range of factors, having regular hearing testing with an experienced professional is essential in discovering what type of hearing loss you have and finding the right hearing care solution that is best for you.
How Can Hearing Care Specialists Help With Hearing Loss?
Here at Kevin Paisley Hearing, our experienced hearing care professionals offer an advanced hearing assessment to assess your overall ear health, uncover the underlying cause of your hearing concerns, and create a tailored management plan to help. And from our professional perspective, any time is the right time to book a hearing assessment and get the help you need.
Hearing loss can have a range of causes, and everyone’s experience is unique. To find the best solution for your circumstances, we take a holistic approach and conduct several tests as part of our hearing assessment. When you book in with us, you can expect:
1. A Thorough Consultation With A Hearing Care Professional
Our trained hearing care professionals will start by taking a detailed medical and health history. They’ll discuss your concerns, events that may have affected your hearing, and other relevant information.
2. Ear Examination
Next, they will use an illuminated instrument called an otoscope to look inside your ears. They will search for any problems in the ear canal or the eardrum that may affect your hearing. Common problems found in the ear canal include a build-up of wax, damage to the eardrum, an infection or inflammation, and many more.
3. Comprehensive Hearing Assessments
Next, we perform relevant hearing assessments based on what you need and what we have uncovered. These tests may include:
• Audiogram: An audiogram takes place in a quiet, sound-treated room or booth to ensure no outside noise interferes with your testing to ensure accurate results. You'll put on a pair of headphones and undergo a ‘pure tone’ test. This is where a small machine called an audiometer that beeps at different volumes and frequencies, and you'll be asked to press a button or raise your hand when you hear each sound. Wearing earphones lets us measure the hearing of one ear at a time.
• Bone Conduction Test: A bone conduction test is similar to a pure-tone test. You will wear a small device called an oscillator on your Mastoid bone, located behind your ear. The oscillator gently vibrates and sends sound directly into the cochlea in your inner ear. You will again be asked to indicate each time you hear a beep, and your hearing care professional will record your results.
• Tympanogram: A tympanogram changes the pressure within your middle ear. A small probe with a soft rubber tip may be placed in your ear - the probe acts as a soft plug sealing your ear canal and creates pressure changes to observe how well your eardrum moves.
• Speech Test: A speech test is occasionally used to measure how well you hear and understand ordinary conversation. It's similar to a pure tone test, except you'll listen to recorded words spoken at different volumes and then be asked to repeat what you hear.
Our hearing care professionals will chart the results of your assessments for each ear on an audiogram to assess the degree of your hearing loss and which part of your ear is affected. We will discuss your results with you and provide tailored treatment options to improve your hearing and overall ear health.
If the results show that you could benefit from a hearing aid or cochlear implant, we can discuss suitable technology and style options. Hearing devices have changed drastically over the years to keep up with technological advances and now offer features such as:
• Smaller and discrete ear pieces that are less conspicuous than ever before
• Rechargeability on the go
• Connectivity to phone and television
• Tinnitus (ringing in the ears) masking feature
• Wireless sound field technology to amplify a teacher, lecturer or staff member’s voice
• Fall detection
• Translation and other AI features
Don’t Delay Treatment: Get Your Ears Checked Today
If you think you may be developing hearing loss or you’re concerned for a loved one, it’s time to book an appointment with a qualified audiologist or ear care professional who can examine your ears, make an accurate diagnosis, rule out any underlying conditions, and get started on an appropriate treatment plan to prevent further hearing loss and minimise the impact it has on your life.
Book an appointment with our friendly team at your local centre here.