AN INTRODUCTION TO LOSS OF HEARING
Loss of hearing is a term that describes a condition where you are unable to hear sounds with one or both of your ears. It may be partial or complete. It occurs gradually. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), at least 25% of people between 65 and 74 years of age experience some form of hearing loss.
Hearing loss is also identified by other names such as:
- Decreased hearing
- Conductive hearing loss
The ear has three main parts namely: the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear. The hearing process begins with the passage of sound waves into the eardrum through the outer ear. The eardrum is a piece of skin, quite thin, that lies between your middle and outer ear. It vibrates when it is hit with sound waves.
Your middle ear has three bones known as the ossicles. The three ossicles include the hammer, the anvil, and the stirrup. The ossicles work together with the eardrum to amplify the vibrations as sound waves travel into the inner part of the ear. Upon reaching the inner ear, the sound waves move through the cochlear fluid. The cochlea is a structure located in the inner section of the ear. It has a snail shape. The cochlea has nerve cells with several miniature hairs connected to them. What are the functions of these hairs? Well, it is simple. The hairs on the cochlea convert the vibrations of the sound waves into electrical signals. These electrical signals are then transmitted to your brain. These electrical signals are interpreted by your brain as sound. These hairs react differently to different sound vibrations, signaling different sounds to your brain.
CAUSES OF HEARING LOSS
According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), hearing loss is of three types. The underlying factors vary. The major types are:
CONDUCTIVE HEARING LOSS
A person has conductive hearing loss when sounds are unable to travel into the eardrum and the three ossicles from the outer ear. If you have conductive hearing loss, you will be unable to hear muffled or soft sounds. Conductive hearing is not permanent. It can be treated by medical interventions. Treatment includes surgical interventions and antibiotic therapy. A cochlear implant may be used. A cochlear implant is a small machine placed under the skin behind the ear. It is electrically powered. It converts sound vibrations into electrical signals which can then be interpreted by your brain as sound.
- Infections of the ear
- Accumulation of wax in the ear
- Swimmer’s ear
Other potential causes include scarring or benign tumors of the ear, or the presence of a foreign object in the ear.
SENSORINEURAL HEARING LOSS
Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when the structures in the inner ear are damaged. It occurs when the neural pathways connecting the ear to the brain are damaged. Sensorineural hearing loss is usually permanent. Loud sounds, normal sounds, or even distinct sounds become unclear or muffled.
Factors that contribute to this include:
- Birth defects that distort the ear structure
- Spending an inordinate amount of time around loud sounds
- Skull or head trauma
- Acoustic neuroma – a tumor, usually noncancerous, that develops on the nerve connecting the ear to the brain (the vestibular cochlear nerve).
- Meniere’s disease
Some infections may also contribute to sensorineural hearing loss. These include:
- Scarlet fever
These group of medications contributes to sensorineural hearing loss. The ASHA says that at least 200 OTC and prescription medications may cause hearing loss. If you are taking cancer medications, medications for heart disease, or an infection, please consult your doctor to examine the risks associated with each of these medications.
MIXED HEARING LOSS
Loss of hearing may be mixed. Mixed hearing loss happens when a person has both sensorineural and conductive hearing loss at the same time.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF HEARING LOSS
Deafness is a gradual process. It occurs over time. Initially, you may not notice any changes in your hearing. Please if you notice the following symptoms, do not hesitate to contact your doctor:
- Deafness that impacts negatively on your daily activities
- Deafness that gets worse – doesn’t seem to resolve
- Partial deafness in one ear.
- Acute deafness (occurring suddenly)
- Severe deafness
- Pains in the ear accompanying the hearing disorder
Please go for treatment if you experience numbness, weakness, or headaches along with any of the following disorders:
- Fast breathing
- Stiffness of the neck
- Mental agitation
- Sensitivity to light
These signs may accompany fatal conditions that require urgent medical attention, like meningitis.
TREATMENT FOR LOSS OF HEARING
If your hearing loss is caused by the accumulation of wax in the ear, you can decongest your ear canal at home. You can remove wax from your ear with the help of wax softeners and other OTC solutions. Please talk to your doctor before you try to take any stuck object out from your ear. This is to prevent unintentional damage to your ear.
If your hearing loss is due to other factors, you may need to see your doctor. If an infection is
Hearing loss impacts negatively on the quality of life of individuals. It also affects a person’s mental state. If you have problems with hearing, you’ll find it hard to understand other people. This can lead to depression or an increase in your anxiety level. You’ll notice a significant improvement in your quality of life when you treat your hearing loss. Your self-confidence will be restored, along with your ability to communicate effectively with other people.
PREVENTING HEARING LOSS
Hearing loss can be prevented, but this does not apply to all cases. This implies that some cases cannot be prevented. That notwithstanding, you can take the following measures to protect your hearing:
- Always wear safety equipment if you work in a noisy environment. Wear earplugs when attending concerts or when you go swimming. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, at least 15% of people between the ages of 20-69 lose their sense of hearing due to loud noise.
- Test your hearing regularly if you work in a noisy environment, swim regularly, or attend concerts often.
- Do not expose your ears to loud music and noise for long periods.
- If you have an ear infection, please seek medical help. Ear infections can cause permanent ear damage if they are not treated on time.