Hearing loss can affect anyone, and it can occur at any point during a person’s life. It affects different people to varying degrees and for different reasons, and can be triggered by a number of environmental and biological factors.
Because hearing loss typically develops gradually, you may not notice the loss of subtle environmental sounds such as a ticking clock or a rustling newspaper. Before you know it, you are missing sounds of speech that are critical to everyday communication.
Living with untreated hearing loss brings difficulties in conversations with loved ones, discomfort at social gatherings, and challenges in the workplace.
Common side effects from untreated hearing loss include:
Hearing loss is generally categorized by its location and severity—that is, what part of the ear is dysfunctional or damaged and to what degree the loss has occurred. There are three primary types of hearing loss: conductive, sensorineural, and mixed – which is a combination of both conductive and senorineural loss.
Conductive hearing loss results from sound waves are physiologically blocked or altered in their attempt to conductively pass through the outer and/or middle ear regions efficiently. Diseases of the middle ear can damage normal functionality of the ossicular chain, preventing sounds from reaching the inner ear unaffected. Medical intervention including surgery can correct some defects. Conductive losses are rare and represent only 5% of all hearing loss.
Sensorineural hearing loss results from damage to nerve pathways (outer hair cells) that transmit sound vibrations to the brain within the cochlea in the inner ear. Sensorineural hearing loss cannot be reversed and is not treatable through surgery or medication, but it can be significantly improved upon through advanced hearing aids or assistive listening devices. Several factors can lead to sensorineural hearing loss, including:
Noise-Induced Hearing Loss results from exposure to loud noises over a long period of time. This is one of the most common types of hearing loss, and, unfortunately, it is also the most preventable. For example, a person who works around noisy construction equipment or very loud music without protective hearing devices will almost certainly develop some degree of hearing loss over time. The results are gradual, painless, and frequently undetectable until hearing loss has occurred.
Ototoxicity occurs when toxins from certain drugs or chemicals damage inner ear. Similarly certain medications can poison the auditory nerve that transmits sound signals to the brain.
Presbycusis is age related sensorineural hearing loss, brought on by degenerative changes in the ear caused by cumulative effects from growing older.
Genetics can contribute to hearing loss through hereditary predisposition to syndromes that damage the inner ear.
Trauma induced hearing loss, though uncommon, occurs as a result of accidental injury to the cochlea or auditory nerve.
Mixed hearing loss occurs when both a conductive and sensorineural component are present. In these instances, a combination of treatments including amplification can help improve hearing.
Hearing loss is measured audiometrically by the degree to which a person falls short of normal understanding. Typically, hearing or hearing loss fits into one of five categories of sound (loudness ranges), determined by measuring the patient’s ability to perceive a variety of sounds at different decibels (dB). The categories of loss below show each range by decibel level perceived and measured.
Normal hearing – 0 dB to 20 dB (near total silence to a faint whisper)
Mild loss – 20 dB to 40 dB (whisper to a low voice)
Moderate loss – 40 dB to 60 dB (rainfall, normal conversation)
Severe loss – 60 dB to 85 dB (up to about the level of a vacuum cleaner)
Profound loss – 85 dB or more (anything louder than a lawnmower, car horn, etc.)