Hearing loss can be confusing, overwhelming, and scary for many patients. Since education is key to lasting treatment, our hearing care providers want patients to be as informed as possible about their conditions, helping them to overcome hearing loss instead of simply living with it.
What Causes Hearing Loss?
In a normal ear, sound waves are channeled from the outer ear to a delicate, snail-shaped structure called the cochlea. Thousands of microscopic hair cells are bent by the wavelike action of the fluid inside the cochlea, setting off impulses which are then passed to the auditory nerve. The nerve transmits the signals to the hearing center of the brain, which translates the impulses into sounds the brain can recognize.
There are many different reasons that people can suffer some degree of hearing loss. Damage to any of the inner ear structures, including the cochlea, auditory nerve, brain, and eardrum can all cause temporary hearing problems. The most common causes of chronic and permanent hearing loss include aging, genetics, medical conditions, exposure to loud noises, and side effects of prescription medications.
What Are the Symptoms of Hearing Loss?
The early warning signs of hearing loss can be extremely subtle. Many patients will ignore their symptoms, finding small ways to adapt to the condition instead of treating the problem. For example, those who are experiencing mild hearing loss may:
- Have difficulty keeping up with another person in conversation
- Not be able to separate a person’s voice from background noise
- Rely on lip reading to follow what someone is saying
- Turn the volume up on their phones and electronic devices
- Have trouble hearing consonants (especially S, C, T, and CH sounds)
- Ask others to “slow down” or “stop mumbling” when they speak
- Avoid conversations and social settings
- Hear a ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
Are There Different Types of Hearing Loss?
There are three different kinds of hearing loss: sensorineural, conductive, and mixed.
The most common type of hearing loss is sensorineural, which is caused by damage, degradation, or inflammation of the inner ear or the auditory nerve. Most patients will suffer loud sensorineural hearing loss as a result of the aging process, as the ear may simply lose its ability to conduct and process sounds over time. Exposure to loud noises or persistent high noise levels can also cause sensorineural hearing loss.
Conductive hearing loss occurs when the sounds traveling from the outer ear to the inner ear are interrupted. This may be caused by swelling from an ear infection, a buildup of ear wax, or a tumor or other obstruction inside the ear canal. Patients with conductive hearing loss often feel a plugged sensation in one or both ears, and hear as though the sounds are muffled or garbled.
Mixed hearing loss is a combination of sensorineural and conductive loss. It is common for patients who have suffered physical damage to head or ear canal to experience mixed hearing loss.
What Do the Different Degrees of Hearing Loss Mean?
When you undergo hearing loss testing, your hearing care professional will examine how well you can hear sounds at different loudness and pitch levels. Sound volume is measured in decibels (dB), while pitch is measured in frequency. Your audiogram will show the softest sounds you can hear, as well as the highest frequencies you can hear. Using these measurements, your hearing loss may be classified as:
- Mild. People with mild hearing loss can usually hear sounds between 25 and 40 dB in at least one ear. Patients commonly have some difficulty understanding conversations, especially in noisy environments.
- Moderate. Moderate hearing loss is a maximum hearing capability of between 40 and 70 dB in at least one ear. Patients with this degree of loss have extreme difficulty keeping up in conversations.
- Severe. The quietest sounds heard by people with severe hearing loss are between 70 and 95 dB. Patients with this condition can usually only hear using hearing aids, and may use sign language to communicate.
- Profound. Profound hearing loss is an inability to hear sounds below 95 dB. People who suffer from profound hearing loss typically communicate using sign language and lip-reading, and can only hear extremely loud sounds (if any).
What Is the Best Treatment for My Hearing Condition?
Hearing aids are the most popular and effective treatment for mild to severe hearing loss. Our Philadelphia-area hearing care providers can diagnose the extent of your condition, helping you choose the perfect device that will restore your lost hearing ability. Call the number on this page to make an appointment at our office location nearest you!