About Hearing Loss
Hearing loss is the 3rd most prevalent chronic condition in the United States, after arthritis and heart disease. 1 in 3 people over the age of 60 and 1 in 6 Baby Boomers (ages 49-69) have hearing loss. In fact, 1 in 14 Generation Xers (ages 37-48) already have hearing loss. It is important to remember that age-related hearing loss is a chronic condition, meaning there is no cure for hearing loss. However, there are tools and services available to manage and treat the effects of hearing loss.
Hearing loss usually occurs gradually over time. However, a hearing loss may appear suddenly or overnight. In this case, immediate medical attention is recommended. When a hearing loss occurs gradually, those with hearing loss may not even recognize or realize that hearing loss is occurring.
There are three types of hearing loss: conductive, sensorineural, and mixed. An audiologist is able to accurately diagnose the type of hearing loss present and make the appropriate referrals or treatment plan. A conductive hearing loss occurs when there is an issue in the transduction of sound through the ear canal to the ear drum and through the middle ear space, such as impacted ear wax, a hole in the ear drum, or an ear infection. A conductive hearing loss may be temporary and may be treated or corrected by a medical professional, such as an ENT physician, by prescribing medicine or performing surgery. A sensorineural hearing loss is considered a permanent hearing loss due to damage to the inner ear (the cochlea) or the hearing nerve. Damage to these structures can be caused by aging, noise, genetics, or certain medications. Treatment for sensorineural hearing loss is typically hearing aids, and in severe cases a cochlea implant may be considered. A mixed hearing loss is the presence of both a conductive hearing loss and a sensorineural hearing loss in the same ear. Treatment may include a combination of medical/surgical intervention and hearing aids.
Symptoms of hearing loss:
- Difficulty understanding on the phone
- Difficulty understanding in groups or crowds
- Frequently needing others to repeat themselves
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- Misunderstanding what people say and responding inappropriately
- Failing to hear someone when talking from behind
- Turning up the volume
- Withdrawal from conversations or social activities
Why Treat Hearing Loss
Not only do hearing aids allow you to hear better, they can also have positive impacts in several other areas of your life.
Improve quality of life. 81% of current hearing aid users report to be satisfied with their hearing aids. 71% of hearing aid users report an improvement in quality of life. Over half of all hearing aid users reported improved relationships at home and improved feelings about themselves. Many also report improved confidence, independence, relationships with children/grandchildren, and view about life overall.
Improve your balance. In one study, the use of hearing aids was shown to clinically improve postural stability, which may reduce feelings of imbalance and falling risk.
Reduce tinnitus. The use of hearing aids can reduce annoyance related to tinnitus. Generally, the use of amplification alone can reduce the user’s awareness of tinnitus, or ringing in the ears. Certain hearing aids also have built-in tinnitus maskers to further reduce the annoyance and stress tinnitus can cause.
Increase your earning power. Individuals with hearing loss still in the workforce lose up to $30,000 annually in income due to underemployment and possible poorer job performance caused by an overall reduction in quality of life (i.e. anxiety, depression, social isolation, social paranoia, medical health, emotional stability, cognitive functioning, etc). The use of hearing aids can alleviate this impact on income loss by 90-100% for those with mild hearing loss and by 65-77% for those with severe to moderate hearing losses.
Decelerate cognitive decline. A study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society showed that individuals with hearing aids experienced no more cognitive decline than individuals with normal hearing over a 25-year period. In contrast, those who had untreated hearing loss experienced a greater decline in cognitive abilities over the same 25-year period.
Hearing Loss And Your Health
How to protect your hearing:
- Stop smoking. Current smokers are at a 70% higher risk to have hearing loss than non-smokers.
- Manage diabetes. Hearing loss is about twice as common in people with diabetes compared to those without the disease. Even those with pre-diabetes have a 30% higher rate of hearing loss compared to those with normal blood sugar levels.
- Stay heart healthy. Did you know there is a link between heart disease and hearing loss? A healthy cardiovascular system (a person’s heart, arteries and veins) has a positive effect on hearing. Additionally, hypertension or high blood pressure can be an accelerating factor of hearing loss in older adults.
- Use hearing protection. Learn how to recognize when the environment becomes hazardous to your hearing and use hearing protection accordingly. Those with hearing loss are more at risk for noise-induced permanent hearing damage.
There have been several studies linking hearing loss to other health conditions, such as memory and cognitive processing, falling, depression and social isolation.