Approximately one in five Americans have some hearing loss. Often unavoidable due to the natural process of aging, hearing loss can also result from exposure to loud noises over time.
Types of Hearing Loss
The two most common types of hearing loss are sensorineural hearing loss and conductive hearing loss.
Sensorineural—Also called nerve deafness, this is the most common type of hearing loss, affecting one out of five people by age 55. It usually comes on gradually, but rarely results in complete deafness. People who have this type of hearing loss can hear speech but often have difficulty understanding it, especially with background noise.
There are a range of causes for sensorineural hearing loss, including:
Sensorineural hearing loss is irreversible but can usually be helped with the use of hearing aids.
Conductive—This occurs when the ossicles, the three tiny bones of the ear, fail to conduct sound to the cochlea, or inner ear. It can also happen when the eardrum fails to vibrate in response to sound because of a mechanical problem, such as fluid in the ear or disruption of the ossicles.
There are several causes of conductive hearing loss, including:
People with conductive hearing loss can be treated successfully with medicine or surgery, as well as with hearing instruments. Some people have both sensorineural and conductive hearing loss; these people can be treated with hearing aids as well.
Some other conditions that cause hearing loss or adversely affect people’s hearing are:
Presbycusis—This is hearing loss due to normal aging, and therefore most common for older adults. It is caused as hair cells become old and brittle or are destroyed. Presbycusis is generally a type of sensorineural hearing loss but sometimes can be a conductive hearing loss.
Tinnitus—Also known as “ringing in the ears,” it is the sensation of sound that does not exist. About one-third of all adults experience tinnitus at some point, and 15 percent of adults require medical evaluation for their tinnitus. It can be caused by many factors, including earwax buildup, eardrum perforation, and ear infections.
Hearing Loss Risk Factors and Symptoms
Hearing loss is often so gradual that it goes unnoticed by the sufferer and is discovered by family, friends, or a routine hearing test. The following symptoms may indicate hearing loss:
Some people have an increased risk of experiencing hearing loss, such as:
Protecting Your Hearing
It is difficult to protect yourself from hearing loss due to aging or certain other conditions. However, it is possible to protect yourself from noise-induced hearing loss. Be aware of the sounds that can be dangerous to your ears and take steps to avoid or reduce them.