Man holding hand to ear struggling to hear

Your chances of developing hearing loss at some time in your life are regretfully quite high, even more so as you age. In the US, 48 million individuals report some degree of hearing loss, including almost two-thirds of adults age 70 and older.

That’s why it’s vital to understand hearing loss, so that you can detect the symptoms and take preventative actions to reduce damage to your hearing. In this blog post, we’re going to zero in on the most common form of hearing loss: sensorineural hearing loss.

The three forms of hearing loss

In general, there are three types of hearing loss:

  1. Conductive hearing loss
  2. Sensorineural hearing loss
  3. Mixed hearing loss (a combination of conductive and sensorineural)

Conductive hearing loss is less common and results from some type of obstruction in the outer or middle ear. Common causes of conductive hearing loss include impacted earwax, ear infections, benign tumors, perforated eardrums, and hereditary malformations of the ear.

However, sensorineural hearing loss is far more common.

Sensorineural hearing loss

This form of hearing loss is the most common and makes up about 90 percent of all reported hearing loss. It results from injury to the hair cells (the nerves of hearing) of the inner ear or to the nerves running from the inner ear to the brain.

With sensorineural hearing loss, sound waves enter through the external ear, hit the eardrum, and reach the inner ear (the cochlea and hair cells) as normal. However, on account of damage to the hair cells (the tiny nerve cells of hearing), the sound signal that is sent to the brain for processing is weakened.

This diminished signal is perceived as faint or muffled and normally impacts speech more than other kinds of lower-pitched sounds. Additionally, as opposed to conductive hearing loss, sensorineural hearing loss is typically permanent and cannot be corrected with medicine or surgery.

Causes and symptoms

Sensorineural hearing loss has multiple possible causes, including:

  • Genetic disorders
  • Family history of hearing loss
  • Meniere’s Disease or other disorders
  • Head trauma
  • Benign tumors
  • Exposure to loud noise
  • The aging process (presbycusis)

The final two, direct exposure to loud noise and aging, account for the most frequent causes of sensorineural hearing loss, which is honestly good news as it shows that the majority of cases of hearing loss can be avoided (you can’t avoid aging, obviously, but you can minimize the cumulative exposure to sound over the course of your lifetime).

To understand the signs and symptoms of sensorineural hearing loss, you should keep in mind that injury to the nerve cells of hearing almost always develops very gradually. Consequently, the symptoms advance so slowly that it can be near impossible to perceive.

A small measure of hearing loss every year will not be very detectable to you, but after several years it will be very noticeable to your family and friends. So although you may think everyone is mumbling, it may be that your hearing loss is catching up to you.

Here are some of the symptoms to look for:

  • Trouble understanding speech
  • Problems following conversions, especially with more than one person
  • Turning up the television and radio volume to excess levels
  • Continuously asking other people to repeat themselves
  • Experiencing muffled sounds or ringing in the ears
  • Feeling exceedingly tired at the end of the day

If you recognize any of these symptoms, or have had people tell you that you may have hearing loss, it’s best to schedule a hearing exam. Hearing tests are fast and painless, and the earlier you treat hearing loss the more hearing you’ll be able to maintain.

Prevention and treatment

Sensorineural hearing loss is largely preventable, which is great news because it is by far the most common form of hearing loss. Millions of cases of hearing loss in the US could be avoided by adopting some simple protective measures.

Any sound higher than 80 decibels (the volume of city traffic inside your car) can potentially harm your hearing with sustained exposure.

As the decibel level increases, the amount of time of safe exposure decreases. Which means at 100 decibels (the volume of a rock concert), any exposure over 15 minutes could harm your hearing.

Here are a few tips on how you can protect against hearing loss:

  • Employ the 60/60 rule – when listening to a portable music player with headphones, listen for no more than 60 minutes at no more than 60 percent of the max volume. Also consider purchasing noise-canceling headphones, as these will require lower volumes.
  • Shield your ears at concerts – rock concerts can range from 100-120 decibels, significantly above the ceiling of safe volume (you could damage your hearing within 15 minutes). Limit the volume with the aid of foam earplugs or with musician’s plugs that preserve the quality of the music.
  • Protect your ears at the workplace – if you work in a high-volume profession, talk to your employer about its hearing protection program.
  • Safeguard your hearing at home – a variety of household and recreational activities generate high-decibel sounds, including power saws, motorcycles, and firework displays. Make sure that you always use ear protection during extended exposure.

If you already have hearing loss, all hope is not lost. Hearing aids, while not able to completely restore your hearing, can significantly improve your life. Hearing aids can improve your conversations and relationships and can prevent any further consequences of hearing loss.

If you suspect you may have sensorineural hearing loss, book your quick and simple hearing test today!

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