Hearing Loss Symptoms
The ability to hear remains an integral part of human existence and, as such, should not be taken for granted. As one of our most important senses and physiological functions, hearing allows us to connect, communicate, and interact with people around us and across global boundaries. Beyond communication, hearing plays an essential role in learning, speech, and language development, especially among children.
Whether hearing loss is on one or both ears or mild or profound can severely impact patients' health and mental well-being.
Hearing loss is caused by a wide variety of factors and can affect anyone at any age. It may result from birth complications, genetic causes, chronic ear infections, other infectious diseases, head and neck trauma, drugs and medications, exposure to loud noise, and aging (presbycusis). According to the World Health Organization, about 466 million people suffer hearing loss globally, and about 34 million of these patients are children.
Hearing impairment also has profound and adverse effects on social development, speech, language comprehension, and classroom learning; without timely intervention and effective treatment, children who suffer mild to moderate hearing loss record poor school performance than children with normal hearing. As the child advances, the academic performance and achievement gap tends to widen.
Hearing loss isn't a dead end. The exciting news is that there are various preventive measures and treatment options, including hearing aids.
In this article, we will dig deep into hearing loss causes, symptoms, and treatment methods. By learning more about it, you can understand how it impacts you or your loved one—and how you can help them.
What is Hearing Loss?
Hearing loss, impairment, or deafness is the partial or total inability to listen to sounds in one or both ears. This condition affects many people around the world. About 15 percent of people over 18 have reported some level of hearing impairment in the United States.
Several factors trigger hearing loss. And some of them include
- Damage to the inner ear
- High pitched sound and noise.
- Aging (presbycusis)
- Ruptured eardrum
- Excessive ear wax or impaction
- Ear infection, tumors, and abnormal bone growth, etc.
Depending on your hearing loss’s cause and level, the symptoms you experience may be mild, moderate, severe, or profound.
The severity of your hearing loss is determined by how loud the pitch or volumes need to be before you hear a sound. For example, if your hearing difficulty is mild, you will find it difficult to hear or understand speech when there is a higher-pitched sound or noise around you. If your hearing loss is moderate, you can still communicate with the use of a hearing aid.
Those with severe hearing loss or deafness cannot hear sounds even when the volume is amplified. They are mostly reliant on sign language, lip-reading or loud speech to communicate. Similarly, patients with profound deafness cannot hear anything or cannot detect sounds at all, so they rely on lip-reading or sign language.
Although most people group mild and moderate hearing loss, severe hearing loss and profound deafness sit at the end of the hearing spectrum. Because the human ear perceives sound frequencies between 20 Hz (lowest pitch) to 20 kHz (highest pitch), any patient that doesn't hear any sound within those frequencies has profound deafness.
Key Statistics and Facts about Hearing Loss
Here are some of the key facts and numbers you need to know.
- According to the World Health Organization, it is estimated that more than 900 million people will experience disabling hearing loss by 2050.
- About 1.1 billion young persons between the ages of 12–35 face a massive risk of hearing defects due to exposure to dangerously loud noise in recreational environments.
- About 60 percent of hearing loss in children is due to causes that can be prevented.
- Non-treated hearing loss costs an estimated $750 billion annually.
Preventive measures, early identification, interventions, and addressing hearing loss are cost-effective and can reap massive benefits to children and adults.
If you suffer from hearing loss, you can get massive relief from cochlear implants, the use of hearing aids, and other assistive devices. Sign languages, captioning, and other forms of social, educational, and emotional support can help you cope with the impact of hearing loss.
Recent estimates have revealed that there's an 83 percent gap in the use of hearing aids. This gap means that only 17 percent of people who need a hearing aid use one.
According to the U.S Center for Disease Control and Prevention, about 5.2 million, i.e., 12.5 percent of children and adolescents between the ages of six to 19, have experienced permanent hearing loss due to dangerous noise exposure.
The same report reveals that about a 17percent of adults between the ages of 20 to 69 (approximately 26 million) have suffered permanent hearing damage due to excessive noise exposure.
Types of Hearing Loss
Hearing loss is mainly categorized based on the ear’s part and the hearing process that's affected. The three main types of hearing loss including
- Sensorineural hearing loss
- Conductive hearing loss
- Mixed hearing loss
Sensorineural hearing loss
Sensorineural hearing loss (also known as nerve-related hearing loss) is the most common hearing loss and is typically due to problems in the inner ear.
This type of hearing loss is triggered when the auditory nerves or the inner ear’s tiny cells are ruptured or damaged. Because the auditory nerves carry sound frequencies and information about volume and clarity of sounds, damage to these nerves results in slow, gradual loss of nerve endings and sound receptors.
In severe cases, this condition weakens or impedes nerve signals transfer to the brain and results in total deafness.
Conductive Hearing Loss
Conductive hearing loss isn't as common or severe as sensorineural hearing loss. Patients who have conductive hearing loss may hear better when the sound is loud or during conversations over the telephone.
Conductive hearing loss happens when there is damage to the ear canal, outer and middle ear, eardrum, etc. This obstruction impedes the transmission of sound waves into the inner ear.
Depending on the cause, conductive hearing loss may be temporary or permanent. However, it is very rare for patients to experience total deafness resulting from conductive hearing loss. Sometimes, hearing aids or corrective surgery can improve hearing.
Here are some of the common causes of conductive hearing loss
- Obstruction of the external ear canal
- Fusion or fixation of the ear bones (malleus, incus, and stapes)
- Infections and diseases of the ear
- Perforation of the eardrum etc.
Mixed Hearing Loss
Mixed hearing loss is a combination of both sensorineural and conductive hearing loss. It typically occurs when the ear suffers trauma, causing damage to the cochlea( inner ear), auditory nerves, and the outer or middle ear.
Mixed hearing loss can be temporary and also become severe over time. For instance, if you have a conductive hearing loss due to an ear infection, you can still experience age-related hearing impairment (presbycusis) as you age. Also, excessive ear wax or impaction can further compound your hearing loss.
What Causes Hearing Loss?
Congenital factors or environmental factors may trigger hearing loss.
Congenital Causes of Hearing Loss
Congenital causes refer to hearing loss that's acquired before or during childbirth. Several studies have also shown hearing loss is hereditary and may be triggered by genetic mutations.
Generally, this implies that some people are more prone to hearing loss than others. For example, infants whose parents have hearing problems face a higher risk of hearing loss than others.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention attributes 50 to 60 percent hearing loss in infants to genetic causes. And about 25 percent or more of hearing loss in babies is caused by "environmental factors like maternal infections during pregnancy and certain complications during and after childbirth.
During pregnancy and childbirth, some of the complications that may trigger congenital hearing loss include
- Disease and infections during pregnancy, such as German measles (maternal rubella), cytomegalovirus, syphilis, and toxoplasmosis.
- Inappropriate use of prescribed and non-prescribed medicines during pregnancy, such as aminoglycosides, cytotoxic drugs, antimalarial drugs, and diuretics;
- Low birth weight (LBW)
- Perinatal or neonatal asphyxia - deprivation of oxygen to an infant during the birth process that lasts long enough to cause harm.
- Severe jaundice during the neonatal period, which can destroy the auditory nerves of a newborn.
Acquired Causes of Hearing Loss
If your hearing impairments don't fall under the first category, then it's most likely caused by environmental factors such as
Age-related hearing loss or presbycusis occurs over time and is primarily due to the degeneration of sensory cells, auditory nerves, and inner ear structures.
Exposure to Loud noise
Noise-induced hearing loss is the second most common form of sensorineural hearing impairment after age-related hearing loss (presbycusis). Whether it's recreational or work-related noise, exposure to dangerous noise levels can damage the cells of your inner ear.
In most cases, your hearing may rupture due to a single traumatic blast such as an explosion or a gunshot. At other times, the damage may occur due to long term noise exposure from personal audio devices or regular attendance at concerts, bars, or sporting events.
Noise-induced hearing loss is preventable. So, if you work at factories or construction where there is the use of loud equipment or noise is a regular part of the working environment, you need to make use of hearing protective devices to avoid hearing loss. Also, if you engage in noisy recreational activities like motorcycling, car racing, or shooting sports, ear muffs and other protective devices will keep you safe.
Excessive buildup of earwax
The right amount of earwax helps to keep our ears healthy. But when it builds up, it can block our ear canal, cause tinnitus and temporary hearing loss. Removing excess earwax can help restore your hearing.
Albeit, poking your eardrum with an object in a bid to remove the earwax can cause your eardrum to rupture and further aggravate your condition. Please visit a doctor to help you get rid of ear obstructions.
Abnormal bone growths or tumors and chronic ear infections such as otitis media (collection of fluid in the ear) can destroy the cells in your outer or middle ear and trigger deafness.
The use of some medications can cause temporary or permanent hearing loss. Some of these drugs may include those used to treat malaria, cancers, neonatal infections, drug-resistant tuberculosis, loop diuretics, etc.
Infectious Diseases like measles, meningitis, and mumps may impact the auditory system and cause hearing loss.
Head and Neck Trauma: Injury to the head and concussions caused by accidents can damage the auditory pathway and result in tinnitus, hearing loss, and dizziness.
How Does Hearing Loss Impact Patients?
When you lose your hearing, life never remains the same. It impacts almost every area of your life. Suddenly, you find it challenging to communicate with people and start to lose critical connections. Even the struggle to cope and find balance causes a cognitive decline, which may aggravate your situation.
Let's take a look at how hearing loss can impact different aspects of your life.
Hearing loss adversely affects one of life's most essential functions - your ability to communicate with others. And in most cases, this disability means you may have limited access to educational and job opportunities.
For children, hearing loss is associated with delays in speech and language development. When poorly managed, hearing loss from ear infections and genetic causes means the children will perform below par in academics and social activities.
Children with hearing loss need special education assistance to improve their learning abilities, experiences, and academic performances.
Human, Social and Emotional Impact of Hearing Loss
Hearing loss is a debilitating condition. And thus, it negatively impacts the health and social well-being of patients. The inability to communicate and interact with others may cause you to withdraw, feel lonely, isolated, and frustrated.
In most cases, it can interfere with your ability to socialize or work or cause you to lose confidence or self-esteem. Hearing loss patient often experience:
- Frequent mood swings
- Anxiety etc.
The good news is that current treatment methods can help you cope with hearing loss’s emotional and psychological effects.
Economic and Financial impact
The financial and economic implications of hearing loss are immense. According to the World Health Organization, the global cost of unaddressed hearing loss is about $750 billion every year. And this estimate encompasses
- Health sector costs (minus cost of hearing aids and devices),
- Loss of productivity
- Educational support costs and
- Social costs.
Sadly, the situation is worse in developing countries. Children suffering from hearing loss rarely receive educational and social support. Even some countries with provisions for children in this category have poorly equipped and managed facilities.
Adults with hearing loss find it difficult to get employment. Among those who have jobs, a more significant percentage of them are stuck in the lower cadres of work than other people at their level.
Although efforts are being made to raise awareness, improve access to education, provide vocational support services, and create jobs, there's still a lot more to be done.
Symptoms of Hearing Loss
The signs of hearing loss you may experience is based on different factors like the type and cause of your deafness. While some experience deafness during birth, others experience hearing loss as they age or due to trauma.
It is important to note that hearing loss may be a symptom of an underlying health condition like tinnitus or infectious disease. So early detection and diagnosis are crucial and will help you decide what to do next.
Here are some of the common signs you should look out for in newborns
- When the infant does not tilt their head towards a sound or noise before four months old.
- If the baby has not spoken or made sounds at the age of one.
- When your child doesn't seem disturbed by a loud noise.
- If the baby only responds to you when you are in sight but does not answer when you call their names out of sight.
- When the infant is only conversant with few sounds.
Toddlers and Children
Some of the symptoms that may indicate a hearing problem in toddlers and children include
- The child finds it difficult to communicate with other children in the same age group.
- When the child keeps asking you to repeat what you said
- The child speaks or produces high pitched sounds that are louder than normal noises.
- When the child speaks or makes utterances that are muffled and unclear.
Some of these symptoms we have mentioned may become profound as your children grow older.
If you have sensorineural hearing loss, sounds will be unclear, or you may be unable to interpret sound. In severe cases, you will generally lack sensitivity to sound.
Here are other symptoms you may experience
- Tinnitus-like sounds ( persistent ringing in your ears)
- Inability to hear or understand other people's speech.
- Other people's speech may sound slurred, mumbled, or muffled.
- Failure to communicate in noisy places like church, restaurants, group meetings, or family gatherings
- Difficulty in following up group or team conversations
- Feeling of exhaustion while listening to other people.
- Difficulty in listening in noisy places such as concerts, construction sites, train stations, sports arenas, etc.
- Inability to hear high-pitched sounds like whistles, children's and women's voices, etc.
Conductive Hearing Loss
Most patients that experience conductive hearing loss can hear sounds. But, the ability to listen to sounds depends on the overall loudness of that sound. Their hearing can improve by simply turning up the volume of the TV, radio, or any sound source.
Here are some of the symptoms associated with conductive hear loss
- Having to move your ear close to the sound source to hear.
- Partial hearing in one or both ears
- Pain or sense of pressure in one or both ears
- A foul odor coming from the ear canal
- When you feel that your voice sounds louder or different
- Asking people to repeat words very often
Hearing Loss Diagnosis
If you or anyone close to you experience any of the symptoms, you should see a doctor. The thing is, early detection and intervention can help you minimize the impact of hearing loss on both children and adults.
When you visit a doctor, he will ask questions to know your medical history and the symptoms. Based on this information, he will perform physical examinations using instruments like an otoscope. Your doctor may detect Ear Infections, earwax accumulation of fluid in the ear canal.
If he cannot detect ear problems through physical evaluation, he will perform a series to test to diagnose your condition further.
Audiometric tests: During audiometric tests, your audiologists will use an audiometer to determine your hearing levels, ability to recognize pitch and discern different sound intensities, or differentiate speech from background noise.
Tuning fork tests: Tuning fork tests are used to provide early diagnosis, especially when audiometry is inaccessible. Tuning forks are metal instruments that produce sounds when struck. And these tests help to detect unilateral or conductive hearing loss.
App-based hearing Tests: If you are unable to access medical help, you can use mobile apps to quickly screen yourself for hearing loss.
Bone Oscillator Tests: This test enables doctors to identify the type and severity of the hearing loss. A bone oscillator is placed against the mastoid. It vibrates and transmits pure tone sound to the cochlea or inner ear. The goal is to gauge how well vibrations pass through the ossicles and the nerve's function that carries these signals to the brain.
How to Prevent Hearing Loss
Hearing loss that is due to genetic factors, birth complications, or accidents cannot be prevented. Albeit, here are some preventive measures that can help you avoid hearing loss from acquired causes.
1. Stay away from places with loud noises
Adults and children are at risk of experiencing sound-induced hearing loss. If you have to scream before someone can hear, then the noise is loud enough to cause deafness. Whether you are at home or in your vehicle, keep your radio and TV volume at a moderate level to protect your hearing.
While using your headphones, keep the volume level moderate and remove the headphones at intervals.
2. Wear hearing protective devices during loud events
If you attend noisy leisure events like pop concerts, nightclubs, motor racing, or drag racing, you can wear earplugs that reduce the sound intensity. You can also move away from the sound at intervals.
3. Adhere to strict hearing safety protocols
If you work in noisy environments like nightclubs, factories, and construction sites, wear hearing protective devices like earmuffs, earplugs, and move away from the noise at intervals.
4. Get frequent hearing checks
Again, if you are frequently exposed to loud sounds, visit your audiologists to run physical examinations and hearing tests. Early identification and diagnosis will enable you to manage the condition.
Hearing Loss Treatment
There are various treatment methods for hearing loss. And the best treatment type depends on the type, cause, and severity of deafness. However, if you have sensorineural hearing loss, treatment will not cure deafness; instead, it will help you cope with the condition.
Let's take a look at some of the standard and available treatment options.
Use of Hearing Aids
Hearing aids or assistive devices do not cure hearing. However, they are designed to improve your hearing and quality of life. The device amplifies the sound vibration that enters your ear and makes sound audible.
Hearing aids come in different sizes and capacities. They consist of a microphone, loudspeaker, amplifier, and battery. Consult your doctor to recommend the one that's fit for your use.
Cochlear implants are suitable for patients that have severe hearing loss. The device, which is usually inserted inside the cochlea, directly stimulates the hearing nerves. It also improves hearing, speech comprehension, and communication.
Recent advancements in cochlear implant technology mean that patients can comprehend speech even with background noises, enjoy music, and use their implants while swimming.
Removal of Ear Obstructions and Ear Wax Impaction
Obstruction in the ear due to excessive ear wax can cause temporary hearing loss. And removing these obstructions can restore hearing. It is advisable to visit a health professional to remove your earwax impaction.
Surgical Procedures and Medications
If your hearing loss is triggered by abnormal bone growths or tumors and chronic ear infections such as otitis media, surgical operations can improve your hearing.
For instance, if you have infections or fluid in your ear, inserting small tubes in your doctor can drain out the fluids and restore hearing.
Lip Reading and Sign Language
Lip reading and sign languages are alternative communication methods for patients with profound deafness.
During lip reading or speechreading, the patient watches the speaker's lip, tongue, and facial movements. He then uses data and situations from the environment to understand what the speaker is saying.
Sign language involves the use of hand signs, facial expressions, and body postures for communication. People with permanent hearing loss majorly use sign language.
Hearing is one of our most crucial senses. Although we often take good hearing for granted, losing your hearing can negatively impact your health, mental, and social well-being.
Congrats on taking this critical first step to learn about the causes and symptoms of hearings. The good thing is that hearing loss can be prevented. Moreso, early detection and intervention in both adults and children can help you minimize the impact of hearing loss.
If you have experienced changes in your hearing or some of the symptoms we mentioned above, please consult an audiologist for physical examination and further tests.