Hearing loss and impairment
Hearing loss is a condition experienced by 1 in 6 Australians, with men being more commonly affected than women.1 A person suffers from hearing loss when they have a reduced ability to hear sounds compared to others who have normal hearing. Hearing thresholds of 25dB or better in both is considered as normal hearing. A person may experience hearing loss in one or both ears, with the severity of hearing loss ranging from mild, moderate, severe or profound.
Deafness is a condition where the hearing loss is profound and is indicative of little to no hearing ability. People experiencing this often use sign language for communication. When hearing loss experienced ranges from mild to severe, hearing aids, cochlear implants and other devices may help to make communication easier.
Hearing loss in Australia
Amongst Australians, the ageing population is the most affected, with hearing loss being the third most prevalent age-related disability, after arthritis and hypertension.2 However, hearing loss can also be hereditary, a result of infections, or caused by regular exposure to loud noises. While it may occur suddenly, in most cases it is progressive and regular hearing checks are a good way to ensure you are not missing out on the early warning signs.
4 types of hearing loss
Hearing impairment can be either acquired – ageing, injury, infection or lifestyle habits, or occur as a result of genetics. It can be classified into the following four types:
Conductive hearing loss
Conductive hearing loss occurs when there is an interference to sound waves passing on to the inner ear due to an issue with the outer and middle ear. More commonly seen in children, the interference could be because of ear wax build-up, abnormal bone growth in middle ear, punctured eardrum or fluid accumulation.
Sensorineural hearing loss
When the cochlea and/or the auditory nerve experiences damage, sound signals are unable to reach the brain and hearing loss is experienced. It commonly occurs as a result of genetics or the natural ageing process.
Sensorineural hearing loss is permanent in nature and can occur over time along with conductive hearing loss, which may be temporary e.g. owing to an ear infection.
Sometimes a person may experience a ringing sound in their ears after attending an event where loud noise has been playing. This sensation is called tinnitus and usually exists until the ears get used to normal sound levels. Regular exposure to loud noises can lead to noise-induced hearing loss.
Causes of hearing loss
- Fluid or pus build-up behind the eardrum block sound waves from passing through.
- Blockages in the ear due to earwax, dirt or fluids during cold and allergies.
- Damage to eardrum, ear canal or ossicles due to inserting cotton swabs too far, sudden exposure to loud noise, sudden change in air pressure or head injuries.
- Improper development of the inner ear and/or auditory nerve due to genetic disorders.
- Childhood diseases such as mumps, measles or chicken pox.
- Complications and infections during pregnancy and birth.
- Family history of hearing loss or deafness.
- Some medications can be toxic to the ears. If you are taking medications as part of an ongoing treatment, remember to discuss its side effects with your doctor.
- Frequent, prolonged exposure to loud noise.
Causes of hearing loss in one ear
Hearing impairment may occur in just one ear and is known as unilateral hearing loss or unilateral deafness. The person should still be able to hear well with the other ear. If you have problems understanding speech in crowded environments, locating the source of a sound or tuning out background noise, speak to your local TerryWhite Chemmart pharmacist about booking a FREE hearing check. Sudden loss of hearing in one ear may occur due to ear wax or ear fluid build up and medical attention must be sought.
Early signs of hearing loss
- Not turning their head towards a noise or not appearing to be startled by a loud noise.
- Not uttering a single word by the age of 12 months.
- Minimal response when the infant is not facing the person calling out to them.
- Awareness of limited sounds.
Toddlers and children
- Frequently asking others to repeat themselves.
- Talking in a very loud voice.
- Unclear speech and words, especially consonants.
- Falling behind peers in oral communication.
- Often asking people to repeat themselves slowly and loudly.
- Difficulty in hearing the doorbell or telephone.
- Friends and family pointing out that the music or television volume is loud.
- Hearing speeches and sounds as muffled.
- Trouble following conversations at social gatherings.
Treatment for hearing loss
Sensorineural hearing loss cannot be cured as it is not possible to repair the damaged hair cells in the cochlea. However, modern medicine offers treatment options such as hearing aids and cochlear implants for other types of hearing impairment to help improve quality of life. The first step is to book a hearing test and consult with your doctor who would refer you to a qualified audiologist.
Tips for protecting your hearing
While little can be done about hearing impairment occurring as a result of illness, accident or genetics, it is always helpful to take protective measures to prevent hearing loss from getting worse.