Hearing loss is one of the most common and fastest growing conditions in the world today. Approximately 1 in 6 Australian's are affected by hearing loss, with 3 in 4 people over the age of 70 requiring some form of hearing assistance.
What Causes Hearing Loss?
Hearing loss occurs when one or more parts of the ear and/or the parts of the brain that make up the hearing pathway do not function normally. The causes of hearing loss come in many forms and can have multiple causes with each individual having a unique type of hearing loss.
The impact on the ability to hear sounds, known as audiometric hearing loss can, can range from being mild to profound. Hearing loss can be a condition that exists at birth or develops later in life, may occur suddenly or gradually over many years.
The extent of an individual’s hearing loss can also differ depending on the pitch (frequency) of the sounds being heard. Individuals can also have different hearing losses in each ear.
It’s important to know if you have a hearing loss, as it can reduce your ability to learn, listen, and talk with family, friends and workmates. This often leads to social isolation of the individual and recent research suggest there is a link between hearing loss and the on set of conditions such as dementia.
Some common causes of hearing loss are include:
The natural aging process
Genetic predisposition than can start at birth or later in life
Exposure to harmful chemicals or ototoxic medications
There are 4 types of hearing loss
Auditory Processing Disorder
Auditory Processing Disorders occur when the brain has problems processing the information contained in sound, such as understanding speech and working out where sounds are coming from.
Conductive Hearing Loss occurs when there is a problem with the Outer or Middle Ear which interferes with the passing sound to the Inner Ear. It can be caused by such things as too much earwax, Ear Infections, a punctured eardrum, a fluid build-up, or abnormal bone growth in the Middle Ear such as Otosclerosis. It is more common in children and indigenous populations.
Sensorineural Hearing Loss occurs when the hearing organ, the Cochlea, and/or the auditory nerve is damaged or malfunctions so it is unable to accurately snd the electrical information to the brain. Sensorineural Hearing Loss is almost always permanent.
It can be genetic or caused by the natural aging process, diseases, accidents or exposure to loud noise, chemicals and medications.
Technologies such as Hearing Aids, Cochlear Implants and Hybrid Cochlear Implants can help reduce the effects of Sensorineural Hearing Loss.
Mixed Hearing Loss occurs when both Conductive Hearing Loss and Sensorineural Hearing Loss are present. The sensorineural component is permanent, while the conductive component can either be permanent or temporary.
Effects of Hearing Loss
Hearing loss can have a range of consequences that depends on the individual and their unique type of hearing loss. The most common experience is a reduced ability to understand other people, particularly in noisy situations. This can impact how you interact with family and friends, making it difficult to learn at school and or perform your duties in the workplace competently.
Impact On Children & Infants With Hearing Loss
Research has demonstrated that children with a mild or moderate hearing loss can have difficulties learning and developing the necessary speech and language skills that help foster self-esteem and the ability to succeed at school and gain employment. If not detected early, a hearing loss can change the way children speak, learn and interact with others. Being aware of a child’s hearing abilities soon after they are born, e.g. through neonatal hearing screening, gives hearing health professionals time to manage a young child’s hearing loss with effective Habilitation. Once a hearing loss is detected, and appropriate measures put in place, a child can usually continue down the pathway of speech and language development.
Health Risks Associated With Untreated Hearing Loss
If left untreated, hearing loss can have other negative social and health impacts in both adults and children that go beyond the hearing impairment itself and include reduced quality of life and well-being. Potential health impacts from hearing loss can include headaches, muscle tension, and increased stress and blood pressure levels. Some studies have linked untreated hearing loss in adults to depression, fatigue, social withdrawal and impaired memory.
If you think you may have hearing loss, make an appointment to see a hearing health professional for a Hearing Test.