Hearing loss is a widespread condition that affects approximately 36 million American adults, or 17% of the population, to some degree. While it affects people of all ages, it is most common in older people, with 1/3 of the population experiencing hearing impairment by the age of 65.
How To Tell When You’re Experiencing Hearing Loss
The symptoms of hearing loss aren’t always obvious to those affected. It often comes on so gradually that subtle changes in hearing are difficult to detect. Signs include speech that sounds muffled, frequently asking a speaker to repeat what he or she has said, having trouble following conversations over distracting background sound, and turning up the volume on the television or radio.
In addition to loss of hearing due to natural aging (presbycusis), causes include noise exposure, medical conditions (e.g. Meniere’s disease and otosclerosis), ear infections, excessive buildup of earwax, trauma, hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease.
Types of Hearing Loss
There are three main categories of hearing loss: conductive, sensorineural, and mixed. Conductive hearing loss involves problems of the outer or middle ear and is frequently treatable. It can be caused by aging, ear infections, earwax, injury, and abnormalities or growths. Medications and/or surgery are often successful in restoring hearing. Sensorineural hearing loss, on the other hand, cannot be cured. It is the result of nerve damage to the inner ear caused by noise exposure, viruses and infections, and hereditary factors. Most types of sensorineural hearing loss respond very well to hearing aids. Mixed hearing loss is a combination of conductive and sensorineural.
Preventing hearing loss isn’t always possible (heredity and natural aging play a big role), but there are certain steps you can take to protect yourself from hearing damage brought on by other factors. Environmental and industrial noise exposure can be prevented through the use of proper hearing protection. The same holds true for music concerts, sporting events, hunting trips, etc. Always bring along earplugs! Make sure to keep the volume level turned down on personal music devices. Those exposed to the water frequently (e.g. swimmers and surfers) should consider investing in custom earplugs designed to keep moisture from entering the ear canals. Children should stay current on their immunizations.