Hearing loss can be as a result of noise trauma, barotrauma, and penetrating wounds to the ear. The ear can also be damaged by illness, toxins and medication that destroy the ability of the ear to hear.
What is Hearing Loss?
Hearing loss is a very commonplace medical condition that can be caused by aging, ear disease, heredity and noise, among other things. Hearing loss is the inability to detect speech and other sounds and to interpret those sounds by the brain. There are several factors that go into how severe an impact the hearing loss will have on the affected person. These factors affect the individual’s quality of life and include:
• The pitches that are affected
• The number of decibels heard
• Whether it is bilateral or unilateral
• The part of the hearing system that is affected
• Whether or not you can recognize speech sounds
• Whether there was a noise-related, drug-related or environmental cause
• The person’s age
Hearing loss affects older adults disproportionately. About 17 percent or nearly 36 million Americans are affected by hearing loss. As for age, about 18 percent of adults between 45-64 years of age have hearing loss. This increases to 30 percent of people between the age of 65 and 74. It increases to 47 percent of adults over the age of 75 years. Men have an increased incidence of hearing loss when compared to women, probably due to an increase in occupational exposure.
There are several types of hearing loss, which can range from mild to profound.
Some people miss only high frequency sound and others lose all sense of sound.
Some people are born with hearing loss. Others develop diseases that cause hearing loss or sustain trauma to the hearing parts of the ear. Loud noises over a long period of time can distress the hearing and there are medications that are ototoxic.
There are two major types of hearing loss:
• Sensorineural Hearing Loss. This when the cause of the hearing loss is the inner ear parts or the auditory nerve. It is impossible to fix this kind of hearing loss and it is generally permanent.
• Conductive Hearing Loss. This happens when the sound waves are unable to reach the inner ear for processing. It can be due to a punctured ear drum or wax build up. This kind of hearing loss is generally fixable.
One type of hearing deficit is called Presbycusis. It occurs because of changes in all parts of the ear. It comes on with age and is due to head injury, loud noises, aging, heredity, illness, infection, circulation difficulties and prescription drugs. It is permanent but can be helped with hearing aids. Presbycusis begins around age fifty.
What causes Hearing Loss?
Hearing loss has many causes, from heredity to trauma. The major causes of hearing loss include illness, exposure to loud noises, ear or brain tumors, head injury, ototoxic drugs, and aging. It can cause a complete deafness or the sounds of tinnitus or ringing in the ears.
Common types of hearing loss include the following:
• Otosclerosis. This involves damage to the tiny bones that augment hearing. This causes a conductive hearing loss and fortunately, is often surgically correctable.
• Meniere’s disease. This affects the inner aspect of the ear. No one knows what causes this disease, which begins at the age of 30 to 50. There is vertigo, ringing in the ears and hearing loss, which is sensorineural. The symptoms can be mild or severe and usually the hearing loss comes and goes but, over time, is irreparable.
• Autoimmune Hearing Loss. This happens very suddenly and needs treatment immediately if there is hope of getting some hearing back. It is due to an autoimmune disease, attacking cells of the inner ear.
• Ototoxic medication. There are some medications that taken in too large a dose can cause permanent or temporary loss of hearing. The main drugs are the aminoglycosides like (streptomycin), salicylates (like aspirin), chemotherapy drugs, and loop diuretics like Lasix.
• Noise Trauma. This usually causes permanent loss of hearing. It involves damaging the hair cells in the inner ear from over-stimulation. This is called acoustic trauma and can come on gradually or suddenly, as with a bomb blast.
• Acoustic Neuroma. This is a tumor within the ear that can cause a feeling of fullness in the ear, hearing loss, and tinnitus.
• Traumatic brain injury. A physical head injury such as a skull fracture, a hole in the ear drum or damage to the bones in the middle ear can result in temporary or permanent loss of hearing.
• Presbycusis. This involves sensorineural loss of hearing that occurs in middle age and occurs gradually. Speech is often muffled and the higher pitches are the first to go.
Symptoms of Hearing Loss
Loss of hearing can reveal itself in many ways. You can have:
• Difficulty understanding speech, especially under situations of high background noise.
• Muffled hearing.
• Listening to the TV or radio at higher levels than before.
• Depression from chronic hearing loss.
• Avoiding conversations.
• Tinnitus—ringing, buzzing, roaring or hissing in the ear.
• Fluid or pus from the ear.
• Ear irritation or pain.
• Difficulty identifying things in space
• May be unilateral or bilateral
Often the individual with hearing loss is not aware of it and family members are the first to notice that the person has lost their hearing. You can see an otolaryngologist to see if your hearing is damaged.
Risks for Hearing Loss
There are some people at a higher risk of getting hearing loss when compared to others. Risk factors include:
• Getting older. Exposure to noise trauma over time can damage the cilia and nerve cells in the inner aspect of the ear.
• Heredity. Some people are genetically predisposed to hearing loss.
• Occupational exposure. If you work where loud noises are prevalent, you can get nearing loss over time if you don’t wear hearing protection.
• Recreational noises. These include firearm use, fireworks and other things that are too loud over a period of time. MP3 players put you at particular risk, especially if you play them at high volumes and recreational vehicles can contribute to hearing loss.
• Certain medications like chemotherapy drugs and gentamycin (an antibiotic) can damage hearing loss on a temporary or permanent basis.
• Certain illnesses that cause a high fever, like meningitis, can cause cochlear damage.
Diagnosing Hearing Loss
If you think you have hearing loss, you may need tests to determine the extent of the loss, especially if you are to be fitted with a hearing aid or other device to improve your hearing. The major tests to deduce hearing loss include:
• General testing. The doctor may simply cover one ear and see how softly he can speak before you can no longer understand the speech.
• Tuning fork. These are two pronged metal instruments that make noise when you strike them against a hard object. A tuning fork gives sound from different frequencies so the doctor can tell which frequencies of sound are mostly affected by hearing loss. It can also tell if the damage is from sensorineural or conductive hearing loss by placing the fork at the base of the ear to see if the patient can hear it.
• Audiometry tests. These are usually performed by an audiologist. The person is in a quiet room and wears headphones. Sounds of different intensities and frequencies are played and the subject is asked whether or not they are heard and with which ear. A complete picture of the person’s ability to hear is made.
Interestingly, if there are hearing losses, they tend to be at the frequency of the persons noise trauma.
Treatments for Hearing Loss
The treatment for hearing loss depends on the cause of the disease and how severe the disease is. It can be as simple as removing the wax blockage from the ear. Wax can build up and compact the ear, causing loss of hearing. The ear wax is removed by putting oil in the ear to loosen the wax and then flushing the ear with warm water.
They make devices for doctors that flush out ear wax. Alternatively, the wax can be scooped out with an ear loop or suctioned out of the ear.
Many people have hearing aids. This can help hearing if the damage is in the inner aspect of the ear. Hearing aids can be fitted to your ear with the help of an audiologist. Simple microphone-style hearing aids can be bought over the counter that simply fit over the ear. It sometimes takes more than one try to get a hearing aid that works the best for your ear and your hearing.
Cochlear implants are state of the art devices that help compensate for the parts of the inner ear that are not working. It is surgically implanted and is perhaps the best way to get some kind of hearing for those that have a great deal of hearing loss. An otolaryngologist is the type of doctor you would see for such a device.
Complications of Hearing Loss
While it sounds like a minor thing, hearing loss often has a significant impact on a person’s quality of life. Regardless of the cause of hearing loss, there are often problems with interacting with other people in conversations. You can experience:
• A sense that people are angry with you (which is usually false)
People with hearing loss often live with these complications long before they see a need to seek treatment. Many do not seek treatment at all. It can cause long term problems for loved ones trying to live with a person who does not seek treatment for hearing loss. The person with hearing loss will often withdraw from social activities because they can no longer hear conversational speech.
The Benefits of Treatment
Getting treated for hearing loss has the potential to improve your quality of life and your relationships with others. The things most likely to happen after being treated for hearing loss include:
• A greater sense of self confidence
• Better relationships with those who love and care about you
• An improved life outlook when it comes to many aspects of your life
The loved ones of those who have been treated with hearing aids or cochlear implants are likely to report a change and an improvement in their own quality of life as they now live with someone who can now understand them, share experiences with them and speak clearly to them at a normal tone of voice.
If you or a loved one has suffered hearing loss as a result of someone else's negligence and would like to discuss your legal options with an experienced Sacramento Personal Injury Attorney, contact us online or call us at 916.921.6400 to set up a FREE consultation.