Hearing Loss

The Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) estimates that 20% of Americans – approximately 48 million people – experience some degree of hearing loss. The numbers are higher for older Americans: approximately one-third of Americans age 65 and 50% of Americans age 75 and older experience hearing loss.

The World Health Organization has noted a rise in hearing loss among younger populations worldwide as well, linked with the popularity of portable electronic devices. In children, two or three of every 1,000 are hard of hearing or deaf, while approximately 30 school children per 1,000 have a hearing loss. In the workforce, approximately 60% of workers experience hearing loss. Similarly, 60% of veterans returning from combat zones report cases of hearing loss and tinnitus.

Hearing Aids

Hearing aids are designed with features to accommodate the many different aspects of hearing loss. Depending on the configuration of your hearing loss, your hearing specialist will recommend hearing aids with features to address your specific hearing needs.

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Hearing loss is a medical condition in which one’s hearing abilities are compromised, whether due to genetics, exposure to noise, the natural process of aging, or some other cause. In the United States, hearing loss is the third most common medical condition, after arthritis and heart disease. Though it is commonly linked to older people, hearing loss may occur to anyone at any age. Hearing loss ranges in degrees of severity, from mild to profound.

Signs of Hearing Loss

Hearing loss may occur slowly or gradually, or it may occur after a one-time exposure to a dangerous level of noise. Common signs of hearing loss, adapted from the HLAA, are shown below.

People experiencing hearing loss will:

  • Ask people to repeat what they say
  • Have trouble hearing in groups
  • Think others mumble
  • Fail to hear someone talking from behind
  • Turn up the volume on TV and car radio
  • Have difficulty on the phone
  • Have trouble hearing the alarm clock
  • Have difficulty hearing at the movies
  • Avoid noisy parties and restaurants
  • Withdraw from social situations

Types, Causes, and Treatment of Hearing Loss

There are three types of hearing loss, which occur due to different causes. These are conductive, sensorineural, and mixed hearing loss.

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    Conductive Hearing Loss

    The outer and middle ear “conduct” sound with normal hearing. Conductive hearing loss occurs when there are issues with the outer or middle ear (including eardrum and bones of the middle ear). Causes of conductive hearing loss include but are not limited to: middle ear problems, ear infections or otosclerosis; head injury; or birth defects. Conductive hearing loss is treated with hearing aids. If it is caused by ear infection or other disease, then the treatment of related issues may help hearing loss.

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    Sensorineural Hearing Loss

    Sensorineural hearing loss is located in the inner ear, specifically the cochlea and auditory nerve system. When our ears pick up sounds, these sounds are translated into neural signals by inner ear hair cells which are then sent to the brain to be received as sound. If these inner ear hair cells are damaged, they do not regenerate and thus could lead to sensorineural hearing loss. Sensorineural hearing loss may be caused by hereditary/genetics, noise-induced hearing loss, head injury, certain ototoxic medications (which damage inner ear hair cells), illnesses (measles, mumps, meningitis, Meniere’s), presbycusis (age-related), or tumors in the auditory nerve pathway. Sensorineural hearing loss may be treated with hearing aids.

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    Mixed Hearing Loss

    Mixed hearing loss is a combination of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss, affecting various parts of the ear. Hearing aids are also used to treat mixed hearing loss.