Hearing is probably one of the most important senses that we possess. Our favorite music, the sound of a new-born child crying and the beautiful sound of chirping of birds in the morning is made even more better with good hearing.
However, many of us take our hearing for granted and even fewer of us realise that hearing loss is quite a significant problem amongst our population.
Hearing is not just important for day-to-day activities. It is also an important part of interpersonal relationships. Having poor hearing can affect quality of life tremendously. For example, if you are crossing the road and do not hear the honking of a motorcycle fast approaching, it could be quite disastrous for you.
There are a number of different reasons why hearing loss occurs. Obviously, the common one is advancing age. However, coexisting illnesses, infections and human genetics can play a role in the loss of normal hearing. Our day-to-day lives include numerous gadgets that can be plugged into our ears. These too can lead to hearing loss over a period of time.
As it is such a significant problem, today we shall take a look at what the common causes of hearing loss are and how we could prevent it from affecting us early on in life.
Definition of Hearing Loss:
According to the World Health Organization, an individual who is not able to hear as well as someone who has normal hearing is said to have hearing loss. Normally, the human threshold for hearing is around 25 decibels (a measure of sound).
The intensity of hearing loss can vary between individuals. Some of them are only mildly hard of hearing while some can have complete deafness.
What are the Causes of Hearing Loss?
There are certain that our cases of hearing loss that have been described in babies. This is usually due to infections that are occurred when the fetus was within the uterus. Previously, a drug called thalidomide was being used which resulted in new-borns being deaf. Infections with an organism called cytomegalovirus can also lead to hearing loss in babies.
The most common cause of hearing loss is advancing age. Clinical research has found that around 30% of people between the ages of 65 to 74 years suffer from some degree of loss of hearing. With each advancing year, the chances of developing hearing loss increases.
It is not very clear why exactly getting older is linked with hearing loss. It is believed that the ageing process may affect some of the minute structures that are present within the ear that are responsible for hearing. Obviously, genetics also plays a role in this as well.
Constant exposure to loud noises can also increase the chance of losing your hearing. This exposure to loud noises may take place at the workplace or may even be a professional hazard. For example, people who work in construction, drilling, factory workers and even airport workers are exposed to very loud sounds which could potentially damage the eardrum and that hearing mechanism.
Similarly, musicians and DJs are exposed to loud sounds all the time for long hours. Over a period of time, hearing loss becomes a professional hazard.
Medicines that are prescribed to some individuals can sometimes lead to hearing loss as well. Tablets such as aspirin, certain antibiotics, medicines to get rid of excessive fluid in the body (diuretics) and certain agents used as chemotherapy drugs can also lead to this problem.
The above causes are descriptive of those that lead to hearing loss in a slow and steady manner. However, they can sometimes be a sudden loss of hearing as well. While this is not very clear as to why it happens, certain infections are notorious in leading to sudden hearing loss.
Excessive wax in the ear can sometimes press upon the tympanic membrane (eardrum) and this can make it difficult to hear. Removing the wax can restore hearing completely.
People who get into altercations and suffer a punch wound to the ear may become deaf. Similarly, road traffic accidents can lead to trauma to the skull and hearing loss as well.
Finally, clinical conditions such as Meniere’s disease and otosclerosis can affect the inner ear and lead to deafness.
What are the Symptoms of Hearing Loss?
In the early stages, it may be impossible to detect mild hearing loss. However, certain family members may suggest that they need to speak a lot louder for an individual to hear things clearly. Some people may even find it harder to talk on their mobile phones as they cannot hear the other person on the line.
As hearing loss progresses, it becomes more and more difficult for the individual to understand what another person is saying. In mild hearing loss, having a conversation with another individual is quite easy and straightforward. However, in a noisy background it may become harder.
Once you reach a stage where you have to ask an individual to keep repeating themselves, then your hearing loss has progressed to a moderate level.
If it is difficult to have a conversation because you cannot hear the person you are talking to, then the level of hearing loss becomes severe.
Finally, if you cannot hear anything that an individual is saying to you despite them shouting directly in your ear, then you have reached a level of complete deafness, also called profound hearing loss.
Investigating Hearing Loss:
While it sounds quite straightforward to make a diagnosis of hearing loss, there are certain tests that need to be conducted to confirm the degree of hearing loss. A simple questionnaire can sometimes help make a diagnosis. But additional investigations such as speech audiometry and pure tone audiometry can be very helpful.
Basically, these tests assess whether you can hear high-pitched sounds and low pitched sounds. It also determines the cause of deafness as to whether it is related to the structure of the hearing mechanism inside the ear (called conductive deafness) or due to the nerve supply to the ear (called sensorineural deafness).
Treatment of Hearing Loss:
Unfortunately, there is no treatment specifically aimed towards reversing hearing loss. However, if medications have led to this condition, it is important that they be stopped straightaway.
Hearing aids are the best treatment to improve hearing in individuals. Previously, these were quite unsightly but new technology now means that hearing aids can fit inside the ear and be not visible to people around. These aids can be worn during the day when venturing out of the house and can be removed when sleeping in the night.
Many ear implants are also utilised as treatments for hearing loss. Cochlear implants are probably the most popular ones and are reserved for those people who do not get any benefit from traditional hearing aids. Cochlear implants help improve the function of the nerves inside the ear and can thus enhance hearing.
How can Hearing Loss be Prevented?
Avoid listening to loud music or loud sounds throughout the day. If you have no choice and work with the machinery, try and wear noise cancelling headphones.
Remember that constant exposure to loud noises can lead to hearing loss. It is therefore essential that you attempt to stay away from situations where you might be exposed to loud sounds for prolonged periods of time.
Avoid smoking. Researchers found that regular smoking may damage your hearing. This is also true for those who are passive smokers.
Keep your ears clean. Avoid using a cotton swab to clean your ears at this can push any wax further into the ear canal. Wax naturally falls out of the ear but in case it does get stuck, you could use a simple irrigation kit or even possibly get the wax removed by an ENT specialist.
Finally, if you are on any medications that might be affecting your hearing, talk to your doctor about changing these over as soon as possible. Get your hearing tested as recommended by your doctor.
Hearing loss is a very common problem and can significantly affect quality of life. Fortunately, there are some simple steps that can be taken to prevent this from becoming a problem. Make sure you visit your doctor today about getting your hearing checked.