Hearing Loss is defined as a condition (permanent or temporary, mild or severe) that prevents a person from receiving and understanding sounds. Depending on the degree of loss, it may have a lot or a little impact on performance or involvement in life’s activities.
Deafness is defined as a condition that prevents a person from receiving sound in all or most of its forms: a hearing impairment that is so severe that the person cannot process sound information, with or without amplification (i.e. “hearing aids”). <!–split–>
Hearing is one of our five senses, giving us access to sounds in the world around us…people’s voices, the honk of a car horn, sirens or other alarms sounding safety warnings, music, and more… Sound is measured by its loudness (or intensity, measured in units called decibels or dB) and is frequency (or pitch, measured in units called hertz or Hz. Impairments in hearing may occur in either or both of these areas, and may exist in only one ear or in both ears.
Hearing loss is generally described as one of four types:
- Conductive hearing loss is caused by diseases or obstructions in the outer or middle ear. Conductive hearing losses usually affect all frequencies of hearing evenly and don’t result in severe loss of hearing. A person with a conductive hearing loss is usually able to use a hearing aid well or can be helped medically or surgically.
- Sensor neural hearing loss results from damage to the delicate sensory hair cells of the inner ear or the nerves that supply the inner ear. These hearing losses range from mild to profound. They often affect the person’s ability to hear certain frequencies more than others (high vs. low pitches). Even with amplification to increase the sound level a person with sensorineural hearing loss may hear distorted sounds, sometimes making the use of a hearing aid less successful.
- A mixed hearing loss refers to a combination of conductive and sensorineural loss and means that a problem occurs in both the outer or middle ear AND the inner ear.
- A central hearing loss results from damage or impairment to the nerves or nuclei of the central nervous system either in the pathways to the brain or in the brain itself.
How Common Is Hearing Loss and Deafness?
More than 21 million persons in the USA have some degree of hearing loss. 50% of those are over 65 years of age.
Causes of Hearing Loss
Many conditions and diseases may cause hearing loss. Hearing loss can be either congenital (present at birth) or acquired (loss occurred after birth due to illness or injury). Causes of congenital hearing loss include family history, infections during pregnancy (Rubella) or complications during pregnancy such as Rh factor, maternal diabetes or to toxicity. The most common cause of acquired hearing loss is exposure to noise (think rock concerts or music headphones). Other factors include wax buildup, fluid behind the eardrum, ear infections, childhood diseases, smoking (smokers are more likely to have hearing loss than nonsmokers) and head trauma. In any case, early detection is very important to identify effective treatment and beginning treatment promptly may delay or prevent further hearing loss.
Hearing loss should be evaluated as soon as possible to rule out potentially reversible causes such as too much ear wax or medication side effects. It’s also helpful to have baseline hearing tests done so your doctor can note any changes that occur in the future.
In some cases there is no known cure for hearing loss. Treatment is focused on improving your everyday function and the following may be helpful:
- Hearing aids or cochlear implants
- Telephone amplifier and other assistive devices
- Sign language for severe hearing loss
- Speech reading i.e., lip reading and captioned TV and films
- Preferred seating in group settings
Remember that hearing loss can cause both physical and psychological problems. Contact your health care provider immediately if you have a sudden change in your hearing or a hearing loss associated with other symptoms such as headache, vision changes or dizziness.
Your Parish Nurse,