Hearing loss is an increasingly common medical condition that impacts over 40 million people. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), hearing loss is the third most common chronic physical condition in the United States and is twice as prevalent as diabetes or cancer. Impaired hearing results in the reduced ability to process sound, significantly straining communication which impacts all aspects of one’s life.
There are three types of hearing loss: sensorineural, conductive, and mixed. Sensorineural hearing loss is the most common, accounting for 90% of all hearing loss. Most sensorineural hearing loss is acquired which means that the condition developed after a person was born. This is in contrast to hearing loss that develops during pregnancy, referred to as congenital, which is highly rare.
Understanding Hearing Loss
The auditory system which is responsible for our sense of hearing, is complex and involves the complete function of our ears. The ear consists of three main components:
- Outer Ear: consists of the outer cartilage, the most visible part of the ear as well as the ear canal and ear drum.
- Middle Ear: is composed of three connected bones known as the ossicles and the eustachian tube (responsible for maintaining pressure within the ear).
- Inner Ear: houses the cochlea, filled with fluid and thousands of hair cells, as well as nerve pathways leading to the brain.
The outer ear absorbs sound from the environment which travels down the ear canal and lands on the eardrum. Creating vibration of the eardrum and ossicles, this helps amplify and push the soundwaves further into the inner ear. This activates the movement of the hair cells and fluid in the cochlea which help translate the soundwaves into electric pulses that are sent to the brain to process. Any damage to these parts or disruption of this process, results in impaired hearing.
Most commonly, hearing loss results from damage of the hair cells in the inner ear. Humans are born with all of these hair cells in the inner ear that we will ever have. This means that unlike other types of cells, these hair cells do not regenerate, so any damage is permanent.
Causes of Sensorineural Hearing Loss
There is a range of factors that can contribute to the development of acquired hearing loss. Some causes include:
- Aging: age related hearing loss, referred to as presbycusis, becomes a greater risk as older adults age. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders:
- 25% of adults ages 65-74 have hearing loss
- 50% of adults 75 and older have hearing loss
- Environmental Exposure to Noise: sound is measured in units known as decibels. Noise above 85 decibels is considered potentially harmful to our hearing. We can be exposed to these levels of sound at concerts, sporting events, construction sites etc. Absorption of loud sound can cause noise induced hearing loss.
- Existing Medical Conditions: such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, viral infections etc. can increase the risk of developing hearing loss.
- Injury: to the head can damage parts of the ear that are critical to how we absorb and process sound. This is of particular concern to athletes, people involved in the military, and others who have physically engaged professions.
Sensorineural hearing loss can be experienced mildly to severely and can be initially difficult to identify. It typically occurs gradually so slow changes to hearing can be overlooked for quite some time. It is crucial to remain aware and proactive about your hearing health! A great way to do this is by having your hearing assessed.
Seeking treatment for hearing loss is relatively simple. The first step is to schedule an appointment with our team.
Hearing tests are a noninvasive process that determines any impairment, specific type, and degree of hearing loss that you may be experiencing. Fortunately, there are useful ways to effectively treat hearing loss. The most common treatment is hearing aids which are small, electronic devices designed to absorb, amplify, and process sound. This significantly increases one’s ability to hear, allowing you to navigate your daily life with greater ease and comfort.
Treating hearing loss drastically improves quality of life and overall health! Contact us today to learn more.