Hearing Loss Questions and Answers

Hearing loss affects individuals of all ages - know what to look for and what can be done to treat this common problem

Factors affecting hearing loss

  • Noise exposure (social, occupational)
  • Medical conditions (diabetes, heart, thyroid, circulation problems)
  • Ototoxic medications (aminoglycosides, cisplatin, carboplatin)
  • Age

Hearing loss in the average adult tends to gradually decline with time until it seems that suddenly you can no longer hear. At this time you may attempt to tell your physician about your hearing loss or perhaps exhibit signs of possible hearing loss listed below.

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Signs of Hearing Loss

  • Complaining of people mumbling
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Trouble hearing in background noise
  • Asking people to repeat themselves
  • Turning up the volume on audio devices (television, radio, telephone)
  • Decrease in quality of life
  • Withdrawing from family and social activities
  • Complaints of depression, fatigue, and/or stress

3 Types of Hearing Loss

Conductive

About 20% of hearing loss cases are conductive indicating the middle and/or outer ear are contributing to the cause of hearing loss. These cases are usually treated medically or surgically with a complete or partial improvement in hearing.

Sensorineural

The other 80% of hearing loss cases are sensorineural, which results from damage to the inner ear and/or auditory nerve. The cause is harder to determine and is typically permanent. These cases are best treated with amplification devices (i.e., hearing aids and assistive listening devices).

Mixed

The last type of hearing loss is mixed hearing loss, which contains a conductive and a sensorineural component. These types of hearing losses may benefit from medical attention and/or amplification devices.

Once the Audiologist has determined the type and degree of hearing loss present, the patient will then most likely see an Otolaryngologist. S/he will determine if there are any medical conditions affecting the person’s hearing that can be medically or surgically treated or any contraindications that would prevent the use of amplification devices if this were the only treatable option.

Effects of Untreated Hearing Loss

Of the 34.25 million Americans who have hearing loss, 60% are below retirement age and 80% of them have hearing loss that is rehabilitative with the use of hearing aids. However, only about 25% actually use amplification1. These individuals are reaping the benefits that amplification provides. The other remaining individuals are seeing their hearing loss affect many aspects of their life.

Untreated hearing loss hurts the hearing impaired individual in many ways. It can negatively affect every aspect of their life:

  • Job performance
  • Wages
  • Personal relationships
  • Health
  • Untreated hearing loss can also lead to auditory deprivation.

People in the work force may not do anything about their hearing loss until a mistake is made, they lose their job or they finally notice they can no longer hear. This is usually 10-15 years after their hearing has started to deteriorate. Within this time the person is suffering from potential wages that could have been gained through promotions and bonuses. However, their supervisor will see poor job performance and less social interaction among co-workers and supervisors inhibiting increased earnings.

  • Research has shown that untreated hearing loss can affect household income by $23,000 per year and those with treated hearing loss receive about $10,000 more in income than those with untreated hearing loss2. Over time this quickly adds up and can greatly impact ones family and lifestyle.

No matter what degree of hearing loss a person may have, quality of life can be impacted. Someone who leads a very social life may start to withdraw from activities, leave events early, and become much less involved with family and friends. This is not because they do not enjoy the company but more so because it takes a lot of energy to hear in these complex listening environments. This causes a person to become more easily fatigued when having to strain to hear conversations and frustrated when communication does not flow easily between parties. Communication partners also become frustrated and may not want to converse with someone who is having difficulty following the conversation. This negatively impacts a person’s quality of life.

Sometimes these signs of withdrawal are seen as depression or dementia and therefore the person is treated for these symptoms. However, the real underlying reason is the inability to hear. When the hearing loss is rehabilitated a majority of individuals become socially active, interact with family and friends, enjoy going to social gatherings, essentially “become their old self” again. Even the signs of depression and/or dementia may subside.

Aside from a negative impact on overall quality of life, the person may begin to experience auditory deprivation. This means that the brain becomes affected in how it interprets speech sounds. To the individual, speech will sound distorted, similar to a radio station that is not properly tuned. This loss of clarity makes it harder to understand and process speech. The more severe one’s ability to process and understand speech, the harder it is to successfully use amplification. However, if hearing loss is treated early on this can be prevented and hearing impaired individuals are more successful hearing aid wearers. The saying “use it or lose it” fits this scenario perfectly.

Untreated hearing loss can affect all aspects of one’s life, their social and professional relationships, quality of life, and earning power. Yet by simply seeking help from an audiologist and rehabilitating the hearing loss, hearing impaired individuals can lead a fulfilling life just like any other person.

References: 1. Kochkin, S. MarkeTrak VIII: 25-Year Trends in the Hearing Health Market. Hearing Review Vol 16 (11); p12-31. 2. Deafness Research Foundation www.drf.org