Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery (Ear, Nose, and Throat)
About Hearing Loss
Hearing loss is invisible and can affect any age or population. You can't tell that somebody has a problem with their hearing by looking at them, and often people who have hearing loss don't notice a problem. Many times friends and family will notice a hearing loss before the person notices a problem with their own hearing. Unidentified hearing loss in adults can significantly affect the quality of life at work, home, and in social situations. Speech and language development will often be affected in children with significant hearing loss that is not identified before the age of three years old.
How Common is Hearing Loss?
- Approximately 17 percent (36 million) of American adults report some degree of hearing loss.
- There is a strong relationship between age and reported hearing loss: 18 percent of American adults 45–64 years old, 30 percent of adults 65–74 years old, and 47 percent of adults 75 or older have a hearing impairment.
- About two to three out of every 1,000 children in the United States are born deaf or hard of hearing. Nine out of every ten children who are born deaf are born to parents who can hear.
- The NIDCD estimates that approximately 15 percent (26 million) of Americans between the ages of 20 and 69 have high-frequency hearing loss (or problems hearing high-pitched whistle-type sounds) due to exposure to loud sounds, noise at work, or with leisure activities.
- Only one out of five people who could benefit from a hearing aid actually wear a hearing aid.
What are Some of the Signs and Symptoms of Hearing Loss?
- Difficulty understanding speech, especially without vision or when listening in noise. A person may be able to "hear" but not "understand."
- Children may appear to have behavior problems, or have trouble using speech to communicate.
- People with hearing loss may have difficulty participating in conversations, especially in groups.
- People eventually avoid difficult listening environments, affecting their quality of life.
- People with hearing loss have difficulty locating the source of the sound.
- Volume on televisions or telephones needs to be louder than others may prefer.
- Noticing that people are mumbling, and/or often receiving complaints from family and friends.
What are the Types of Hearing Loss?
Sensorineural Hearing Loss
Sensorineural hearing loss is usually permanent and occurs in the inner ear or auditory nerve. Many people are born with sensorineural hearing loss, however, most people who are born with normal hearing will have some type of hearing loss by the time they are older than the age of 60. Many people with sensorineural hearing loss have trouble detecting, as well as understanding, speech, and will often speak in a loud volume. Most, but not all, sensoirneural hearing loss affects higher pitch sounds, so speech may sound muffled and difficult to understand, especially in noisy situations. Some people with sensosrineural heairng loss are sensitive to loud sounds. Many times the cause of sensorinerual hearing loss is unknown; however, more common causes may include aging, vascular disease, exposure to loud noise, head trauma, or virus. Successful treatment often includes use of hearing devices.
Conductive Hearing Loss
Conductive hearing loss affects how sounds are transmitted through the outer or middle ear. Common causes of conductive hearing loss may be wax in the ear canal, fluid in the middle ear, or fixation of bones that are located in the middle ear. People with conductive hearing loss hear their voices louder, and will often speak in a softer volume. Conductive hearing loss is often (but not always) medically treated.
Mixed Hearing Loss
Mixed hearing loss occurs when there is a conductive as well as a sensorineural componenet to hearing loss. Medical treatment is sometimes possible to improve hearing; however hearing devices are often indicated.
What Should I do if I Have Problems Hearing?
See your health care provider. He or she will examine your ears and may send you to an Otolaryngologist (Ear, Nose, Throat physician) or audiologist (hearing specialist) for special hearing tests and evaluations. You may have a problem that is easily treated or you may need hearing aids.
What Can I Do in the Meantime?
- Don't try to hide your hearing problem.
- Tell people that you have trouble hearing, and ask them to speak clearly.
- If you don't hear the first time, ask people to repeat what they said in a different manner.
- Ask people to face you when they speak, and watch their facial gestures. Learn where to sit in groups or in an audience to increase your hearing ability.