An integral part of being human is the ability to actually hear and understand the world around us through the sounds that it produces.
For those of the population who are born with healthy hearing capabilities, this ability shapes a large part of development.
Learning a caretaker's voice, understanding social cues, and interpreting the level of safety in a space based on a simple soundscape - for instance, loud abrupt noises could signal danger!
The ability to hear has a functional role in a person’s development and growth and a deeply personal and even spiritual one. Music itself represents an entire art form that is entirely composed of sounds, and it not only is innate to human society but even has the power to transcend civilizations.
Look at the massive pop success of culture-setting icons like Micheal Jackson and the Beatles who’s music has touched the hearts of billions of people the globe over. The sound itself and the ability to hear is closely tied to the very identity of being human.
So what does it look like when the ability to interpret and recognize sound becomes compromised?
With the ability to hear tied so closely to the human experience and integral to many societal functions, what do you need to know about hearing loss?
Below is a comprehensive guide that will walk you through who can acquire or experience hearing loss, what types of hearing loss there are, what exactly hearing loss is, and some possible treatments regarding hearing loss.
Hearing Loss Is Common
The first thing to understand about hearing loss is that you are not alone if you are experiencing it. Hearing loss is considered one of the most widespread forms of disability affecting the current population. Millions of people throughout the United States experience some form of hearing loss.
One of the main reasons this condition is so prevalent is that the term hearing loss can mean many different things. Hearing loss itself is an extensive term that can indicate anything from a slight loss of hearing ability all the way to profound or total hearing depreciation.
What’s more, is that hearing loss itself is a rather easy disability to acquire naturally.
The average person who has good hearing is constantly exposing their ears to sound and use. This accounts that hearing loss with general aging is extremely common as normal wear and tear can affect these sensitive organs.
What’s more, depending on the level of exposure, your chances of developing hearing loss can increase.
Potential Causes of Hearing Loss
For instance, chronic exposure to loud sound pollution or even acute exposure to very loud sounds such as gunshots or plane engines could potentially cause hearing loss. In a situation like this, acquiring some level of damage to your inner ear and having a degree of hearing loss is something that can be acquired simply by not protecting yourself.
This form of hearing loss can be avoided simply by utilizing proper protection; however, it is also possible to experience loud, damaging noises suddenly and without warning.
Physical trauma and certain diseases or reactions to medications can also cause hearing loss. Some auto-immune disorders can also target specific cells within the inner ear causing hearing loss and genetic effects of hearing loss being genetically passed down through parents.
What’s more is that hearing loss, while it is most prevalent in the older generations, can affect and be present in any demographic and age range.
What Types of Hearing Loss Are There?
Hearing loss largely affects people in three different ways. It can manifest as:-Conductive Hearing Loss
-Sensorineural Hearing Loss
-Mixed Hearing Loss
These three types of hearing loss can affect a plethora of people in many ways. From sudden hearing loss, mild hearing loss, moderate hearing loss, and severe hearing loss, the type of hearing loss depends upon the person. Before we look at what level or degrees of hearing loss exists, let’s take a closer look into each of these types of hearing loss.
The ear itself is composed of three compartments that all work together to interpret sound waves. These compartments are the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear. Each plays a very specific and important role in the process of hearing, and each one plays an important role in the types of hearing loss that exist.
The Outer Ear
The outer ear is composed of two main structures: the auricle and the ear canal entrance. When we think of an ear, we are typically thinking of the outer ear. The auricle is the uniquely shaped outer portion of the ear that is easily visible and unique.
This structure acts as a unique biomarker for people and helps funnel soundwaves toward the entrance of the ear canal itself.
The Middle Ear
The middle ear comprises a tympanic membrane - commonly called the eardrum - and the tympanic cavity. This cavity houses three fundamental bones called the incus, malleus, and napes.
When sound travels down the ear canal, it interacts with the tympanic membrane. At this point, the membrane responds to the sound waves by producing its own vibrations. This is why it is commonly called the eardrum. These vibrations affect the tiny bones of the tympanic cavity and cause them to vibrate at very signature frequencies.
The Inner Ear
The inner ear is right after the tympanic cavity, and it houses the cochlea. This snail-like structure uses hair cells to take the vibrations of the tympanic cavity caused by the napes, malleus, and incus and translates them into an electrical impulse. This is a sight of conversion where sound goes from vibrations and energy and is translated to the neurons that carry the specific information to the brain for processing and recognition.
The inner ear also affects equilibrium and is a balance center for the body as well. Now that we have a basic overview of the ear and its components - let's take a closer look at conductive, sensorineural, and mixed hearing loss.
Conductive Hearing Loss
Conductive hearing loss is when a person acquires some kind of problem in the passageway of sound through the three compartments of the ear. This form of hearing loss is a very broad condition that a multitude of conditions can bring on.
It can occur naturally and be very mild, such as excessive ear wax build-up or simple debris such as dirt. It can be a very mild irritant for hearing and can be easily corrected depending on the case.
Conductive hearing loss can also be much more complicated and have much more severe effects on a person's ability to hear. For instance, trauma can cause swelling or misalignment of the hearing pathway, resulting in severe hearing loss even. An auto-immune disease can actually attack cells of the inner ear and cause swelling and drainage that can also impede a person's ability to hear.
Sensorineural Hearing Loss
Sensorineural hearing loss deals specifically with the neurological side of the hearing process. That being said, it primarily deals with problems that relate to the inner ear.
This can be caused by trauma, exposure to loud noises, or genetic factors. This kind of hearing loss can present as a plethora of degrees of severity; however, it is typically associated with more compromising forms of hearing loss. A person who needs to have some kind of medical intervention and or treatment more often than not will have sensorineural hearing loss. Both hearing aids and cochlear implants are treatment methods for this form of hearing loss, depending on the severity and extent of the damage.
Mixed Hearing Loss
Mixed hearing loss is one of the more common diagnoses as so many conditions can play into each other. For instance, someone suffering from trauma could be experiencing the effects of both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss.
Like the other two, common forms of treatment for mixed hearing loss include hearing aids and, in some instances where sensorineural hearing loss is present, cochlear implants.
Degrees of Hearing Loss
When a person experiences hearing loss, they need to go to an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctor and an audiologist to get properly diagnosed.
The audiologist will administer a battery of tests that will determine what kind of hearing loss a person may have and what degree of hearing loss they are experiencing. The cause of hearing loss and symptoms can vary upon the person.
These degrees range from mild or little to no hearing loss, all the way to severe and profound hearing loss. The ability to know this degree of hearing loss can help a person navigate their need for treatment.
Hearing loss itself can be thought of as a person’s inability to recognize sound at its normal decibel level. A decibel is a unit of measurement that a sound wave naturally presents with. All sound is vibration and has a source, one of the qualifying and characteristics of a sound wave is the decibel it naturally has.
Certain frequencies have set decibels (DB) at their native presentation. Think of the throaty roar of a motorcycle engine (high noise levels) and how it naturally will drown out the sound of a bird chirping overhead. This is an example of decibel levels.
When a person has normal hearing, they typically have a very low decibel threshold. This means that they are capable of recognizing very quiet sounds as well as loud ones. As a person’s ability to hear dissipates - their natural decibel threshold begins to rise.
As a person’s decibel threshold rises, the most common form of treatment is to take the sounds below that decibel threshold and boost them! That is an easy way to think of what a hearing aid does.
Hearing aids are the most common form of treatment for hearing loss. They are small, easy to live with and provide life-changing technology that allows people to hear frequencies by boosting their decibel level to be recognizable.
There are multiple types and styles of hearing aids for those dealing with hearing impairment. Such as hearing aids that fit entirely in your ear or hearing aids that fit both outside your ear as well as inside. Generally, however, you can think of two major categories of hearing aids: prescription hearing aids and over-the-counter hearing aids.
Prescription Hearing Aids
Prescription hearing aids are a very expensive and extensive process to acquire. They include not only doctors such as ENT’s but also audiologists. These specialists will administer tests that can pinpoint a person’s exact hearing deficits.
For instance, if a person has mid-range hearing loss, they have trouble recognizing mid-range frequency sounds. With hearing aids programmed to their specific needs, prescription hearing aids will specifically boost those frequencies only.
Over the Counter
Over-the-counter hearing aids do not allow for personalized programming; however, they can help those who cannot afford prescription hearing aids. Our over-the-counter hearing aids at Audien come with cutting-edge technology that allows you to filter out unwanted background noise and boost the sounds you want to hear.
We also use a one-size-fits-all model for our single-piece in-ear-canal hearing aids, which are the smallest and most discreet hearing aids on the market. Our EV1 and EV3 hearing aids are great for people 65 and older, and they provide a customer satisfaction guarantee.
Hearing loss may seem like a very overwhelming experience, but rest assured that you are not alone. There are many ways to get help and learn more about your condition. If hearing loss is left untreated, it can result in deafness and possible communication disorders. If you suspect you are dealing with hearing loss, visit an audiologist or your healthcare provider.
At Audien, we work tirelessly to ensure that everyone has a quality hearing aid solution for under a hundred dollars. You can find out more about our over-the-counter hearing aids here.
“Audien hearing aids are a great solution for a majority of people. I highly recommend them.” - Drew Sutton, MD, Board-Certified Otolaryngologist.