Hearing loss is a sudden or gradual decrease in how well you can hear. It is one of the most common conditions affecting older and elderly adults. About 48 million adults in the United States report some degree of hearing loss. On average, it takes people seven years from the time they think they might have a hearing loss to the time they seek treatment. Having trouble hearing can make it hard to understand and follow a doctor's advice, to respond to warnings, and to hear doorbells and alarms. It can also make it hard to enjoy talking with friends and family. All of this can be frustrating, embarrassing, and even dangerous.
The first step in identifying hearing loss is a complete audiological evaluation by an audiologist. At the time of the hearing evaluation, a case history will be taken to determine how much your hearing problem impacts your day-to-day life as well as the lives of your family. A complete history will be taken, and questions will be asked about when and how the hearing loss started, if there is ringing in your ears (tinnitus) and if you experience dizziness. You may also have to provide some basic questions about your general health history.
The results from your hearing test will provide the audiologist an outline of what sounds you may be missing or hearing, but the personal answers about your daily life and perception about your hearing provide the basis for a more comprehensive hearing evaluation. At Rocky Mountain Ear, Nose, and Throat we value our team approach so you may also be scheduled with one of our ENT specialists for a more thorough exam of your ears and to address any other issues that may be causing your hearing issues.
If your hearing test reveals a permanent hearing loss, a hearing aid may be recommended for one or both ears. Our audiologist will explain what sounds you are not hearing and what a hearing aid(s) can do to help. It is usually at this appointment that you will get to see and touch different styles of hearing aids. The audiologist will help you choose the best hearing aid(s) style, features and level of sophistication based on your degree of hearing loss, lifestyle, and financial circumstances. The final decision on which hearing aid(s) is purchased is your choice.
Types of Hearing Loss
Hearing loss is described by varying degrees, not percentages. Hearing loss may be mild, moderate, moderately-severe, severe or profound and vary across pitches. It is determined by a simple hearing test as the amount of volume loss you experience compared to an average of many other adult listeners with normal auditory systems.The volume, or intensity, of sounds you hear is measured in decibels (dB), 0 dB being the softest whisper and 120 dB being a jet engine. The softest sounds one can hear are called thresholds.Normal hearing thresholds for adults are considered 0 to 25 dB.
Conductive Hearing Loss
Conductive hearing loss occurs when there is a problem with the way sound is conducted to the inner ear or cochlea. The problem may lie in the outer ear (pinna or ear canal), eardrum (tympanic membrane), or the middle ear (ossicles and Eustachian tube). The inner ear remains unaffected in this type of hearing loss.
Some causes of conductive hearing loss can include outer or middle ear infections, complete earwax blockage, deterioration of the middle ear bones (ossicles), fixation of the ossicles (otosclerosis), a hole in the tympanic membrane, or absence of the outer ear or middle ear structures.
Conductive hearing losses may be temporary or permanent, depending on the source of the problem. Medical management can correct some cases of conductive hearing loss, while amplification may be a recommended treatment option in more long-standing or permanent cases.
Sensorineural Hearing Loss
Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when there is damage to the inner ear (cochlea), or to the nerve pathways from the inner ear to the brain. This type of hearing loss is generally permanent and may stay stable or worsen over time. Routine hearing tests are needed to monitor the hearing loss. Amplification, including hearing aids or cochlear implants in the most severe cases, is a common treatment recommendation.
Common causes of sensorineural hearing loss can include noise-induced hearing loss, age related (presbycusis), virus or disease, auditory nerve tumor (acoustic neuroma), or genetic/hereditary hearing loss.
Individuals with sensorineural hearing loss may report muffled speech, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), difficulty hearing in background noise or that others do not speak clearly.
Most of the time, sensorineural hearing loss cannot be medically or surgically corrected and a hearing aid(s) is often recommended.
Mixed Hearing Loss
Mixed hearing loss occurs when a person has an existing sensorineural hearing loss in combination with a conductive hearing loss. It is, very literally, a mix of sensorineural and conductive hearing losses. This means there is a problem in the inner ear as well as in the outer or middle ear. The conductive hearing loss may be temporary or permanent, depending on the source of the problem.
Mixed hearing loss can sometimes be treated with medical management, and hearing aids are a common treatment recommendation.
For more information regarding hearing loss and to take a hearing quiz click here https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/hearing/Pages/olde..