About Adult Hearing Loss – Should I Say it Again?
I can hear pretty well considering I'm over 65. It's true I have trouble hearing in loud restaurants, but then, who doesn't?
About one third of the people over 65 have some sort of hearing loss. As you age, it gets worse. About half the people over 75 have severe hearing loss. So I consider myself lucky. But many of the men and women I know have hearing problems and have had them for quite a few years. So I keep up on the symptoms and treatment of hearing loss not because I can't hear, but because it's important to be prepared. I hope what I found out will help you too.
Signs of Hearing Loss
Here are some of the questions to ask that will give you a clue about whether or not you're losing your hearing.
- When there is background noise (e.g. a crowd in a theater, a restaurant, etc.) do you have difficulty understanding what someone is saying to you?
- Do you often ask people to repeat what they said?
- When people are talking to you does it seem to you that they’re mumbling or not speaking clearly?
- Do people in your family or your spouse keep telling you that you're keeping the TV on to loud?
- Are you having trouble hearing over the telephone?
If you find yourself answering “yes” to most of these questions it doesn’t mean you are going deaf. It simply means it’s time to have your hearing checked.
Diagnosing Hearing Loss
When the above symptoms start to pile up or when your spouse or other loved ones begin to bug you enough, you will eventually have to be evaluated by a doctor who specializes in hearing loss.
You will most likely be sent for an examination by an ear specialist called an Otolaryngologist (Ear, Nose, and Throat doctor). That person will give you a complete physical exam. Be sure to mention when you first noticed the hearing loss and any other symptoms related to your hearing. This may include balance problems, infections, or any accidents. The doctor will probably order a hearing test. Either the doctor or an audiologist is authorized to conduct these tests.
One type of hearing tests is an audiogram. In this type of hearing test you’ll sit in a soundproof room, wear earphones, and listen to sounds in one ear and then the other. The sounds will be a range of tones or words at different levels. The resulting audiogram will give the doctor a picture of your hearing ability.
A different type of hearing test is tympanometry. In this test, air pressure is put in your ear canal. The air pressure makes your eardrum move. The recording that results is a tympanogram. The purpose of this test is to evaluate the eardrum and the middle ear, which is the space behind the eardrum.
Other tests, if required, could include a Weber or Rinne test which involve a tuning fork, or even a CT or MRI scan of your head.
All of these tests will help the doctor determine the cause of your hearing loss.
Causes of Hearing Loss
There are two major types of hearing loss:
- Conductive hearing loss
- Sensorineural (nerve) hearing loss
Conductive hearing loss involves a reduction in sound level caused by a problem in the outer ear, the middle ear, or both. The most typical causes are:
- Impacted earwax. Earwax helps keep our ears clean. But if the earwax becomes impacted, it effects your hearing.
- Ear infection.
- Punctured eardrum. (Hole in the eardrum.)
- Fluid in the middle ear.
- Very loud noise/music. This usually develops over a long period of time. Rock musicians such as Eric Clapton and Pete Townshend are known to have suffered permanent hearing loss because of loud music.
Sensorineural hearing loss involves damage to the inner ear or to the nerve pathways from the inner ear to the brain. Common causes include:
- Diseases such as otoscerosis or Meniere’s disease.
- Certain medications, such as those used in chemotherapy treatment.
- Genetic condition or heredity.
- Age-related. Presbycusis is the term for sensorineural hearing loss that happens later in life.
- Illnesses such as measles, mumps, or meningitis.
Hearing Loss Treatment
Treatment for hearing loss, of course, depends on the cause. Possible treatments include the following.
Removal of earwax. The doctor will remove the earwax that is compacted in your ear. This is a reversible cause of hearing loss.
Medication. If you are suffering from an ear infection, taking antibiotics may solve the hearing problem. Sometimes you may be asked to stop taking a medication that may have hearing loss as a side effect.
Assistive listening devices. This is using technology to make communication easier for someone with hearing loss. It is not a treatment for the cause of hearing loss itself.
- Devices include telephone amplifiers, TV headsets, a flashing light attached to a doorbell, or remote electronic devices that communicate wirelessly with hearing aids.
Hearing aids. These make sounds louder and easier to understand. For the best results, these devices should be fitted by your doctor or audiologist. Both in the ear and behind the ear hearing aids are available. The style and features you choose for the hearing aid will affect the cost with prices going from the hundreds to the thousands of dollars.
Surgically implanted hearing aids. One type of surgically implanted device is attached to a bone in your middle ear. The purpose is to strengthen the sound vibrations entering the inner ear.
Cochlear implants. The purpose of a cochlear implant is to directly stimulate the auditory nerve. The implant consists of two pieces. One is an external device that fits behind the ear. The second piece is the one surgically implanted under the skin near the ear. After this surgery, it takes time and training for someone to get used to hearing with the implant. That’s because their brain has to be trained to hear sound in a new way.
This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of treatments. Consult with your doctor or audiologist to get the right solution if you are suffering from hearing loss.