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5 Things to Know About Hearing Loss

Monday, April 16, 2018

5 Things to Know About Hearing LossAbout 48 million Americans (20%) report some degree of hearing loss, according to the Hearing Loss Association of America. Hearing loss can affect people of all ages, from birth to adulthood. Hearing loss is a serious health concern that can affect not only quality of life, but new studies suggest links to cognitive-processing abilities in  older adults.

Below are five things to know about hearing loss, how it's evaluated, and how it's treated.

1. Types of Hearing Loss

Two to three children out of every 1,000 born have a hearing loss in one or both ears, and one out of three people 65 years and older have hearing loss, according to the Hearing Loss Association of America. There are three types of hearing loss that can be identified:

  • Conductive Hearing Loss: Conductive hearing loss makes it hard for sounds to get to your inner ear. Conductive hearing loss can be caused by a variety of issues, including ear infections, poor Eustachian tube function, and outer ear and middle ear dysfunctions.
  • Sensorineural Hearing Loss: Sensorineural hearing loss happens when there is damage in your inner ear. Audiologists can help if you have this type of hearing loss. Sensorineural hearing loss can be hereditary, come with age, or be the result of illness or injury.
  • Mixed Hearing Loss: Mixed hearing loss is a problem in your outer or middle ear and in your inner ear. Anything that causes a conductive or sensorineural can hearing loss lead to a mixed hearing loss. 

Some types of hearing loss are temporary, and others are permanent.

2. How Hearing Loss Develops

The first signs of hearing difficulty can be missing parts of words, needing the television or radio to be louder, and increased difficulty hearing in background noise.

Hearing problems often increase slowly and changes may not be immediately noticeable or hearing difficulties might be attributed to other factors, such as unclear speech or mumbling from others. Another indicator is the onset of tinnitus — ringing or buzzing in the ear — as this can signal that there has been a change in hearing. History of noise exposure from work or recreational activities, or family histories of hearing loss are also at-risk associations for hearing loss.  

People experiencing ear pain, a sudden decrease in hearing, or uneven hearing (i.e. one ear poorer than the other) should seek help as soon as possible.

3. Audiologists & Hearing Assessments

The first step in managing hearing loss is to see your primary care physician (PCP) and seek a consult with an audiologist to evaluate your hearing abilities and options. An audiologist is a clinical specialist who holds an advanced degree — often an Doctor of Audiology (Au.D.) — in the evaluation and treatment of hearing and balance disorders.

Hearing assessments are comfortable, and typically takes about 30 minutes to complete. Patients are asked about their overall health and hearing history, and several measurements are obtained to assess different parts of the hearing pathway. For some of the testing, the audiologist looks at the function of different parts of the ear, and for other parts the patient provides responses.

If a hearing loss is present, the audiologist discusses how the exact type of hearing loss may impact communication, and then works with the patient to determine the most appropriate next steps to hear better. When medically appropriate, your PCP and/or the audiologist would suggest a consult with an otolaryngologist (ear physician).

4. Hearing Aids & Hearing Aid Technology

When hearing loss cannot be treated with medical help, hearing aids are often described as the first step in improving hearing.

Hearing aids range in size, but the trend has been to make them as small as possible, while still giving individuals what they need to hear well. Which style of hearing aid is right for each patient is based on several factors, like the degree of hearing loss and/or the patient’s ear shape and size.

Hearing aids today are much better than those of even five years ago. Features now exist which:

  • Reduce background noise
  • Identify, focus, and amplify speech only
  • Eliminate or reduce feedback (whistling)
  • Help manage tinnitus (ringing/buzzing in the ears)
  • Allow for wireless connectivity to accessories and phones
  • Even connect with smartphone apps to remotely control hearing aids and help track their location if ever lost

The audiologist can work with individuals to ensure they receive the ideal technology for their hearing needs and their budget. However, they work best when used with good communication strategies, on the part of the speaker and the listener. The audiologist can review these at the time of a hearing test, and tailor suggestions for each person’s listening needs.

5. Additional Treatment Options for Hearing Loss

When hearing aids are not recommended, or if someone is not yet ready to move forward, communication strategies can also prove helpful. Online listening programs may be recommended to help to improve listening abilities. These programs involve tasks such as listening to sentences in background noise or listening to fast speech, and still being able to understand what is being said. That practice then helps one to hear better in their day-to-day lives. The audiologist can also explain options like these at the time of the hearing test.

Visit the Department of Audiology to learn more about hearing services at UI Health.