Enjoying a good conversation with a friend, listening to your favorite music, hearing a grandchild read for the first time – all these things are simple pleasures in life, but they also have something else in common. They can disappear with the onset of hearing loss. About one-third of adults ages 65 to 74 report some degree of hearing loss, and the number rises to 47 percent for adults over 75.
With these kinds of statistics there’s a lot of information about this medical condition. To properly review its importance I’ve decided to break this subject matter into two parts. Part one that follows below will give you the causes and some healthy answers to hearing loss. In part two, I will discuss in-depth the many supplemental solutions that are available.
Fortunately, hearing loss is not always a necessary evil of getting older. Some hearing loss is preventable, and treatments exist to ensure you won’t miss out on life’s simple pleasures because of hearing loss.
Causes of Hearing Loss
There are two basic types of hearing loss: sensorineural and conductive. Sensorineural loss results from damage to the inner ear or auditory nerve and is permanent. Such damage may occur through injury. Inherited conditions, such as otosclerosis, can cause sensorineural hearing loss when abnormal bone growth prevents the structures of the inner ear from working properly. Such hereditary conditions may show up later in life, rather than at birth.
If you have conductive hearing loss, sound waves cannot reach your inner ear. This is usually due to earwax build up, fluid in the ear, or a punctured eardrum. All these problems can be corrected by your doctor. Contrary to popular belief, a punctured eardrum can be fixed by medical or surgical intervention.
One type of gradual hearing loss, which is specifically age-related, is called presbycusis. This common condition often strikes people over 50 and may run in families, although we do not know the exact cause. Presbycusis can make it difficult to hear people in conversation, and it causes loud noises to be especially irritating. An ear infection, called otitis media, may also cause similar long-term hearing loss if not properly treated.
Certain medicines known as “ototoxic” can damage hearing. Depending on the particular medication, the hearing loss may be permanent or short term. Some antibiotics may fall into this category, so always be aware of the side effects of your medications and discuss concerns with your doctor.
Finally, one of the most common culprits of hearing loss is loud noise. It can damage the inner ear or lead to presbycusis. You can prevent noise-related hearing loss by keeping earphones at a moderate volume and avoiding exposure to environmental noise from firecrackers, lawnmowers, motorcycles, firearms and loud music.
Preventing and Treating Hearing Loss
Since the causes of hearing loss are varied, there are several different ways you can prevent this condition. The easiest one, which applies to all of us, is avoid loud noises. If you have a job around loud machinery, or you know you’ll be exposed to noise, simply wear hearing protectors, such as earplugs.
If you think earwax is a problem, over-the-counter drops, baby oil or glycerin can help. If you think you may have punctured your eardrum, avoid sticking cue tips or other object in your ear and see your doctor.
Although ear infections are most common in children, adults should be aware of ear pain caused by otitis media. If you do get an ear infection, see your doctor right away to avoid long-term damage. If you are on medication for another condition and are concerned that it may be causing hearing loss, speak with your doctor. There may be an alternative therapy that is equally effective.
Although you cannot completely prevent age-related hearing loss, you can stop it from affecting your quality of life. Did you know that only 20 percent of people who would benefit from hearing aids actually use them?
A hearing aid can make everything from conversations to watching television easier for people with gradual hearing loss. You may be surprised to find that hearing aids are more advanced and less cumbersome than you think. Special hearing aids are used for the telephone, stereos and TVs too.
For some types of severe hearing loss, cochlear implant surgery may be a solution. This device interprets sounds as electrical signals and sends them past the damaged parts of the inner ear to the brain. It does not restore lost hearing, but it does help people function more normally in everyday life.
Don’t let hearing loss effect your well being for another day. See your doctor for a diagnosis and to discuss your options. If your ears are in good working order, follow my tips to prevent hearing loss down the road and your efforts will pay off.
Photo Credit: Jeroen van Oostrom