In the United States, hearing loss is the third most common medical condition, affecting around 20% of the population. Read on to learn more about hearing loss, with information provided by Audiologist & University Instructor Dr. Kevin Ivory.
Hearing loss is defined as the partial or complete inability to hear. It is a condition in which the ears’ ability to detect sound and the brain’s ability to interpret sounds are impeded.
Hearing loss may affect anyone, regardless of age, though it is more common in older adults. It may be caused by any number of factors, such as exposure to noise, age, disease, or genetic inheritance.
In the United States, hearing loss is the third most common medical condition, trailing behind heart disease and diabetes. It affects 20% of the population in the US, or approximately 48 million people.
Among older Americans, it becomes more common, with one in three people over the age of 65 experiencing some degree of hearing loss. For people age 75 or older, 50% are affected by some degree of hearing loss.
In the workforce, approximately 60% of people experience some degree of hearing loss. The US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration notes that occupationally-related hearing loss has been a major concern in the last 25 years.
Approximately 60% of service men and women returning from combat zones report cases of hearing loss and tinnitus, due to exposure to noise.
Hearing loss also affects children. Approximately between one to six newborns out of 1,000 have congenital hearing loss identified at birth. Researchers estimate that 15% of US children have low-frequency or high-frequency hearing loss in one or both ears.
Because hearing is an invisible sense, it may be difficult to identify the appearance of hearing loss.
Common signs of hearing loss include:
There are three main types of hearing loss: conductive, sensorineural, and mixed.
Sensorineural hearing loss interferes with the inner ear’s ability to translate sound vibrations into neural signals that are received by the brain as sound. Commonly this is due to the death of inner ear hair cells, which are responsible for this process.
Sensorineural hearing loss is caused by exposure to loud noise; aging (presbycusis); head trauma; hereditary hearing loss; Meniere’s disease; malformation of the inner ear; or tumor.
Conductive hearing loss interferes with the outer and middle ear’s abilities to conduct sound.
It is caused by problems with the ear canal, ear drum, middle ear, and middle ear bones (malleus, incus, and stapes); ear infection; malformation of outer or middle ear structures; perforated eardrum; poor Eustachian tube function; tumors; or impacted earwax.
Mixed hearing loss is a combination of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss, affecting different parts of the ear.
An estimated 80% of tinnitus cases go hand in hand with hearing loss. This is due to the relationship between hearing and inner ear hair cells.
With presbycusis (age-related hearing loss) and noise-induced hearing loss, there may be degeneration to inner ear hair cells. Inner ear hair cells are responsible for translating sound vibrations into neural signals recognized by our brains as sound.
Evidence suggests that tinnitus may result from the degeneration of these hair cells, as they may send phantom signals to the brain, which is then registered as sound.
It takes an average of seven years from the time a person first recognizes signs of hearing loss until the time they decide to seek treatment.
Hearing Loss is identified with a series of simple, noninvasive hearing tests. Identifying and treating hearing loss as soon as it appears bring many benefits to overall health and well-being.
Hearing loss is most commonly treated with the prescription of hearing aids, which amplify sound, provide clear sound signals, and assist the brain in the process of recognizing sounds.
Studies have found that treating hearing loss with hearing aids supports cognitive ability (thus reducing a risk of dementia), improves safety and security, ensures higher earning power, and maintains strong relationships with friends and loved ones, thus reducing the risk of social isolation, anxiety, and depression.