Hearing loss is usually acquired gradually over time. Because of the gradual onset of hearing loss for most people, many are unaware of their problem, and are likely to believe other people just mumble or don’t talk as well as they used to.
Signs of hearing loss
- Needing to have the television louder than others prefer
- Asking people to repeat themselves frequently
- Misinterpreting what others say
- Increased difficulty hearing speech in noisy places
- Increased difficulty understanding foreign accents
Most hearing loss acquired over time is sensori neural in nature, and is sometimes referred to as a nerve deafness. This condition has nothing to do with being nervous, but rather refers to damage having been done to inner ear nerve cells. The more damage to the nerve cells, the greater the hearing loss and the increased difficulty understanding speech. People who have worked in or been exposed to loud noise can acquire a nerve deafness.
People with a nerve deafness frequently say that they can hear, but they can’t always understand. They are actually referring to being able to hear some sounds well, usually lower pitched sounds, but not being able to hear higher pitched sounds well. They may be able to hear a train or a truck at some distance, but unable to hear the phone ringing in the next room. With regards hearing speech, they are usually able to hear the low pitched vowel sounds well, but unable to hear the high pitched consonant sounds well. They may think that a person said “laugh” when in fact they said “last”. It is therefore easy for them to confuse what is said, and their problem is worse if there is background noise.
Another type of hearing loss is a conductive hearing loss. This type of loss is often associated with a medical problem affecting the ears, and frequently occurs in young children. There are, however, some types of conductive hearing loss that are associated with genetic factors or prolonged medical conditions in adults.
A small percentage of the population are born with a severe to profound degree of nerve deafness, and these people are sometimes given the option of having a cochlear implant, or bionic ear, to assist them with hearing, and therefore acquiring, speech.
Most people with a hearing loss, either sensori neural or long-term conductive, can benefit from wearing a hearing aid. A hearing test can determine the nature and extent of hearing loss, and whether the loss is best addressed with medical intervention or hearing aid fitting.
See frequently asked questions.
Sensori neural loss
Sensori neural hearing loss occurs in the inner ear or the hearing pathways, transmitting sound to the brain. It is the most common cause of hearing loss. There can be many causes of sensori neural hearing loss, but by far the most common are age related changes, and damage due to prolonged noise exposure. It can also be due to genetic factors, viral illness and disease such as meningitis.
Sensori neural hearing loss is most often permanent and does not respond to medical or surgical intervention
Conductive hearing loss occurs when sound is not conducted efficiently through the ear canal, eardrum or the tiny bones of the middle ear, resulting in a reduction of sound reaching the inner ear.
Causes may be ear wax or obstruction blocking the ear canal, fluid in the middle ear, middle ear infection, eardrum perforations or disease of any of the three middle ear bones. Often hearing loss due to middle ear problems are temporary and can be resolved with medical treatment. Surgery is also available for some middle ear problems.
Some hearing loss can be a combination of conductive and sensori neural hearing loss. This is called a mixed hearing loss.
Hearing loss is described as being mild, moderate, severe or profound and can be in one ear (monaural) or both (binaural).