While one of the most prevalent ailments to plague Americans, hearing loss is often one of the most difficult to spot. Affecting over 30 million people in the United States, it is a common problem that ails people of all ages.
But what are the signs of hearing loss?
One main sign of both tinnitus and hearing loss is a sense that you can hear what someone is saying but can’t quite understand it.
Besides this, a few other indicators of hearing include:
1. Friends or family saying you turn the television or radio up too loud.
2. Difficulty hearing people on the phone.
3. Not being sure where sound is coming from (known as localization).
4. Asking people to repeat themselves.
5. Noticing a ringing in the ears (tinnitus).
Sensorineural: Most Common Type of Hearing Loss
The most common type of hearing loss is sensorineural hearing loss caused by damage to the delicate hair cells in the inner ear and the nerve pathways that deliver sound to your brain. About 90% of people with hearing loss have this type, and it has a wide range of causes.
Sensorineural hearing loss is usually gradual—it usually doesn’t just happen in a day. Instead, you slowly lose the ability to hear. Both how loudly and clearly you perceive sound is affected by this type of hearing loss.
You might also experience a phenomenon known as recruitment, which causes some louder sounds to be uncomfortable to listen to. For example, you once loved fireworks shows but now find the booming sounds nearly unbearable.
Sensorineural hearing loss can affect all ranges of hearing. Some people may struggle to hear low-pitched and high-pitched sounds, while others may only struggle with one range. One ear may hear better than the other, as well.
Various Types of Sensorineural Hearing Loss
One of the more common types of sensorineural hearing loss is high-frequency hearing loss, which appears as a “ski slope” pattern on an audiogram. Many people with age-related develop this kind of hearing loss.
Like high-frequency hearing loss, noise-notch hearing loss means you can’t hear certain high-pitched sounds very well (such as kid’s voices). But unlike high-frequency hearing loss, you may still hear very high-pitched sounds (birds chirping). This type of hearing loss is associated with noise-induced hearing loss, especially loud gun blasts.
A less common than high-frequency hearing loss, cookie-bite hearing loss, is when a child or adult has trouble hearing sounds in the mid-range frequencies. These are sounds that are neither particularly high-pitched nor low-pitched. This includes many familiar sounds, making everyday situations like talking to friends or listening to music challenging. Usually, people with this kind of hearing loss hear things like squealing alarms or booming thuds yet struggle to hear speech or music at seemingly ordinary volumes for other people.
Reverse-slope hearing loss is essentially the opposite of high-frequency hearing loss. Symptoms include finding men’s voices harder to hear than women’s or children’s voices, struggling to listen to people on the phone, and inability to hear environmental sounds that are low-pitched, such as the bass in music or thunder.
Conductive Hearing Loss
About 10% of people with hearing loss have conductive hearing loss, which means that their inner ear works fine, but their outer or middle ear is not working correctly. The causes of this can range from severe earwax blockage to head trauma. Most other types of permanent conductive hearing loss are detected at birth or soon after.
In adults, this tends to develop must faster than sensorineural hearing loss. Also, depending on the cause, this might be reversible. The symptoms will be similar to general hearing loss symptoms, just occurring at a faster rate.
Any pain, pressure, or a strange odor in your ears are some clues you may have a condition that causes conductive hearing loss.
Sudden Hearing Loss
In very rare cases, a person can develop sudden hearing loss. This usually only occurs in one ear. This may be conductive or sensorineural. The symptoms and signs are generally more apparent than other types of hearing loss – you suddenly can’t hear well out of one ear.
If you have a bad cold or ear infection, it may be hard to tell if your hearing loss is just temporary congestion or actual hearing damage from the virus or bacteria. In some cases, people hear a loud pop and then lose their hearing. The affected ear may feel stuffy or “full,” and a person may feel dizziness or hearing ringing in your ear. Because prompt treatment is critical, act fast if you experience sudden hearing loss.
Children and Hearing Loss
Hearing loss in children is usually detected with the help of a newborn infant hearing screening soon after birth. Some parents also may see the hearing loss in their child if it’s not caught at birth.
Some symptoms of hearing loss in children include a delay in speech and language development, a child not startling when a loud sound is present, a child cannot tell where the sound is coming from.
Poor performance or behavioral problems in school, or a learning disability diagnosis.
What Can Be Done?
To look for the signs of hearing loss, a hearing care provider will generally start with questions about symptoms you’re experiencing. He will then conduct a formal hearing test to see how well you hear beep-like sounds (known as a pure-tone test), speech in noise, and other sounds. Your hearing is then plotted on an audiogram that shows the extent of your hearing loss in both ears.
Permanent hearing loss cannot be restored and usually involves damage to the auditory nerves or the tiny hair cells of the inner ear. For most people, the best solution is fitted hearing aids. In some cases, cochlear implants or bone-anchored hearing systems may be recommended.
If you or someone you know believes you are suffering from hearing loss, it is essential to contact a healthcare professional immediately. If you live in the local area, consider using Hearing Associates of Las Vegas for all of your hearing needs.