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Hearing loss is notoriously tricky to notice and recognize. Because the onset of hearing loss is most often gradual and painless, most people find it easy to ignore early changes in the way they hear. Unfortunately, ignoring hearing issues isn’t the answer – hearing loss is best treated in its early stages. If left unaddressed, hearing loss can worsen and have a deeper impact on your daily life and overall health.
It is important to treat hearing issues early which is why it is also necessary to know how to identify the early signs of a hearing problem.
Signs of Hearing Loss
Hearing loss is serious, so recognizing even small signs of hearing loss is an indicator that you should get your hearing examined. Here are some of the most common signs of a hearing issue:
*Difficulty comprehending speech: voices may sound muted or muffled, especially high-pitched voices. Most people are still able to detect speech, but comprehending what is being said becomes more difficult.
*Frequently having to ask for information or parts of conversation to be repeated: additionally, having to ask people to repeat themselves often is a sign that your hearing is challenged.
*Turning up volume controls: check to see the volume levels on your television, radio and any other device are turned up. Volume levels consistently near maximum (in the upper third of the volume range) is a sign that you may be having difficulty interpreting sound at lower volumes.
*Avoiding loud situations: hearing loss can make navigating noisy environments difficult and unenjoyable. Often, hearing loss will cause you to alter your social behavior, avoiding loud gatherings, parties, social events and busy places like restaurants and airports.
*Loved ones observe you struggling with your hearing: sometimes those around us can recognize hearing issues before you acknowledge them. In part, this is because those close to you can observe when you miss sound cues or misinterpret speech. If a loved one talks to you about getting a hearing exam, it is a sign they care about you and want to communicate better with you.
Hidden Hearing Loss
In recent years, a new form of hearing loss has come to light. Hidden hearing loss is just beginning to be understood and has its own set of symptoms that vary from other forms of hearing loss. Key among these is that despite having a normal audiogram where no hearing impairment is indicated, the person has the distinct feeling their hearing loss is present.
For those with hidden hearing loss, hearing issues mostly arise in noisy and complicated sound environments. Those with hidden hearing loss report feeling confused, distracted and unable to hear in loud, busy situations. In hidden hearing loss, hearing issues are not usually noticeable in quiet, controlled situations. Another sign of hidden hearing loss is hearing speech incorrectly.
Causes of Hidden Hearing Loss
Hidden hearing loss is beginning to be better understood. Current research indicates that this type of hearing loss is caused by damage to a different aspect of the auditory system than commonly recognized hearing loss. Hearing loss is usually caused by tiny sensory cells in the inner ear (known as hair cells or “cilia”) being damaged. Hidden hearing loss seems to be based in damage to synapses that transmit sound signals to the brain.
Once sound is detected by the ear, it is sent as an electrical signal to the brain via the auditory nerve. Connections in this pathway are the synapses. Research has shown in mice that loud noises can corrode the protective sheathing around synapse structures, making them less functional. Research is also looking into the possibility that loss of myelin coating on brain neurons (often occurring as part of auto-immune disease) may contribute to the symptoms of hidden hearing loss.
While there isn’t currently a cure for hidden hearing loss, there are hopeful directions for treatment. Unlike the hair cells of the inner ear, there is the potential for synapse sheathing and myelin to regenerate themselves, potentially restoring lost hearing ability.
In the meantime, if you think you may have a hearing loss, talk with us about the issue. Our team of hearing health professionals can help you manage your hearing challenges. Contact us today to schedule an appointment!