Hearing loss is one of the most pervasive chronic conditions that people experience today. Impacting over 48 million people, nearly 1 in 5 people have some degree of hearing loss in one or both ears. Though it is a public health epidemic that is expected to rapidly increase, hearing loss is often underdiagnosed. A few reasons that contribute to this underdiagnosis is that impairment typically happens gradually so it can be overlooked for quite some time and it is often challenging for people to acknowledge (and confront) changes to their hearing health. But this delay in treatment can significantly impact overall health and wellness. It is critical to be able to identify the signs of hearing loss, as early intervention can support many different parts of your life.
Understanding Hearing Loss
There are several factors that can cause hearing loss including existing medical conditions (hypertension, cardiovascular disease, diabetes etc.), environmental exposure to loud noise, aging, genetic history, and head injuries. These risk factors can damage integral components of the auditory system which is how we hear and make sense of what we hear. This includes:
- Outer Ear: consists of the most visible part of the ear (the outer cartilage), the ear canal, and the ear drum.
- Middle Ear: is composed of the ossicles – three connected bones that are amongst the smallest in the human body.
- Inner Ear: houses the cochlea which contains thousands of hair cells and fluid.
The outer ear absorbs soundwaves from the environment which travels through the ear canal and lands on the eardrum. This movement activates the ossicles, propelling the soundwaves further into the inner ear. The hair cells then help translate the soundwaves into electrical signals that are sent to the brain; also a major component of the hearing process. These signals travel via auditory pathways to the brain where they are further processed and assigned meaning; enabling us to actually understand what we hear. The disruption of this process characterizes hearing loss, a permanent medical condition that has wide reaching effects.
Identifying the Signs
The reduced ability to absorb and process sound creates a range of symptoms. These symptoms indicate the presence of some degree of hearing impairment. This includes:
- Tinnitus: a buzzing, ringing, clicking, or humming like noise that is experienced in one or both ears. This is the most common symptom of hearing loss.
- Increasing the volume on electronic devices (smartphone, speaker, TV etc.)
- Sounds are slurred or muffled, making it difficult to distinguish words
- Difficulty hearing in environments with background noise
- Moving to quieter areas to have a conversation
- Frequently asking others to speak loudly, slowly, and/or repeat themselves
- Having a hard time following entire conversations, especially with multiple people
- Feeling confused and/or exhausted by social interactions
These symptoms are experienced mildly to severely which can drastically impact daily life. Strained communication makes managing personal and professional responsibilities more challenging. This can lead to people with untreated hearing loss avoiding conversations, social interactions, and activities. This kind of social withdrawal is another sign of hearing loss which impacts relationships by creating distance from friends and family. These symptoms often contribute to feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and stress; impacting mental health. Treating hearing loss alleviates these symptoms and is life changing.
In addition to experiencing symptoms and the toll they often take on various aspects of life, untreated hearing loss also increases the risk of developing other health concerns. This includes dementia, depression, and accidental injuries which people with untreated hearing loss are more likely to experience compared to people without hearing loss. Seeking treatment not only improves hearing, but overall health by reducing these risk factors and strengthening wellness.
The first step is to schedule an appointment for a hearing test. Hearing tests involve a noninvasive and painless process that measures hearing ability in both ears. This identifies any impairment and the degree, helping to establish your hearing needs. Fortunately, there are effective ways hearing loss is treated. The most common treatment is hearing aids which are electronic devices that provide ample hearing support. This maximizes hearing capacity, allowing people to move through daily life with greater ease!
If you are ready to live your best life with improved hearing, the first step is to take a hearing test. Schedule an appointment with us today!