Have you noticed that more and more people are mumbling and that some shows on television just aren’t clear anymore? Do you have trouble understanding conversations at restaurants or when there’s lots of background noise? Do you occasionally misunderstand what other people are saying or need to have people repeat what they said? You are not alone. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), nearly 30 million Americans have hearing loss, and hearing loss is the third most common condition in seniors after high blood pressure and arthritis.
In the past 30 years, the number of Americans with hearing loss has doubled and with the number of aging baby boomers, hearing loss is becoming more and more common. Since most hearing loss occurs gradually over years and decades, it often goes unrecognized until it is significant enough to impact communication, which is why having regular hearing evaluations is important.
There are three general types of hearing loss that affect different areas of the ear:
Sensorineural hearing loss accounts for almost 90 percent of hearing losses. This tends to be progressive and permanent and is the result of damage to the inner ear or the hearing nerve pathway. Hearing losses caused by genetic problems, exposure to noise or loud sounds, certain medications or drugs, and aging all can result in sensorineural hearing loss. Treatment for most people with sensorineural hearing loss is hearing aids.
Conductive hearing loss occurs when there is a problem with the outer or middle ear, which prevent sounds from being detected in the inner ear. Wax, ear infections, and problems with the bones in the middle ear can cause conductive hearing loss. Some conductive hearing losses can be treated with medical or surgical intervention.
Mixed hearing loss is a combination of sensorineural and conductive hearing losses when both the outer or middle ear and inner ear are involved. This type of hearing loss typically occurs when a person with a permanent hearing loss also develops a temporary hearing loss, such as from an ear infection.
Repeated exposure to loud sound is one of the most common causes of permanent hearing loss and it’s 100 percent preventable! Any sound that is louder than 85 decibels can cause hearing loss. Lawnmowers, power tools, motorcycles, and live concerts exceed 85 decibels and can damage hearing over time. The NIDCD recommends ear plugs as the best way to prevent permanent hearing loss. Even your MP3 player can be loud enough to cause damage. A second preventive measure is to have your hearing tested routinely. Early detection of hearing loss is the best way to prevent further damage.
Most forms of hearing loss are treatable and hearing aids are the most common option. With recent advances in digital hearing aid technology, more people can be successfully treated with amplification.