Hearing loss is often associated with the elderly, but this condition is very common and can strike individuals of all ages. Approximately 20% of the population in the U.S. suffers from hearing loss, making it the third most common physical condition, ranking behind arthritis and heart disease.
Hearing Loss Signs
Hearing loss is a progressive condition that worsens over time. The sooner you begin treatment, the better your odds of successful treatment. Because early detection is so crucial, recognizing the signs and symptoms of hearing loss can help you gain an upper hand.
Common signs include:
- Needing to have others repeat themselves often
- Difficulty following conversations in noisy environments
- Trouble understanding people because they appear to mumble or speak unintelligibly
- Playing the television or listening to music at volume levels others find uncomfortable
Many people adapt to the gradual change in hearing ability, so regular hearing exams are encouraged as you age, regardless of whether you notice signs of diminished hearing.
Hearing Loss Causes
Many factors contribute to a decline in hearing ability—some are preventable, while others we have little or no control over.
The most common causes of hearing loss include:
- Some loss in hearing is normal as we age. Roughly 1 out of 3 adults 65 and older experiences hearing loss to some degree; by the age of 75, that number increases to 1 in 2. There is no way to prevent or cure age-related hearing loss.
- Noise exposure. Exposure to noise affects people of all ages, and is one of the most common causes of hearing loss. It is also the most preventable: wearing earplugs or other forms of hearing protection when exposed to noise levels exceeding 85 decibels for an extended period of time can help protect your hearing from permanent damage.
- Trauma or injury. Accidents that cause injury to the head and ears can result in permanent hearing loss. Wearing a seat belt when riding in a car and making sure to have a helmet on when participating in contact sports can help prevent serious injury and long-term damage to your hearing.
- Ototoxic medications. Ototoxic medications are drugs whose side effects can cause temporary or permanent hearing loss. This group includes antibiotics, diuretics, chemotherapy medications, pain relievers and others. If you have recently been prescribed a new medication and notice changes in your hearing, let your physician know immediately.
- Infections and disease. Otitis media (middle ear infections) and otitis externa (outer ear infections) can cause long-term hearing loss if they are chronic or persistent. Be sure to seek prompt treatment for swimmer’s ear, surfer’s ear and other infections. Disorders such as otosclerosis (abnormal bone growth) and Ménière’s disease (an inner ear disorder caused by fluid buildup) may lead to hearing loss and other problems such as tinnitus and vertigo.
Additional causes include impacted earwax, benign tumors, foreign objects in the ear and hereditary condtions.
Hearing Loss Treatments
Treatment for hearing loss depends on the type and degree. Medications or surgery might be effective for those experiencing conductive hearing loss, but the majority of patients will probably need help from amplification devices such as hearing aids.