Hearing loss is a common condition in older adults. In fact, approximately one in three people over the age of 65 years old have some degree of hearing loss.
What causes hearing loss?
Hearing loss is categorized by its root cause. There are three primary types of hearing loss: conductive hearing loss, sensorineural hearing loss, and mixed hearing loss. Hearing loss can be congenital, from birth, or acquired and can occur in one or both ears.
- Conductive hearing loss occurs in the middle or outer ear and is often considered a mechanical issue. Obstructions like ear wax, fluid, or bone overgrowth can cause this type of hearing loss.
- Sensorineural hearing loss occurs in the inner ear. It is most often considered to be a permanent hearing loss. Causes of sensorineural hearing loss can include but are not limited to age, noise exposure, medications, diseases and disorders, and infections.
- Mixed hearing loss, as the name implies, is a combination of both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss.
What types of noise can cause hearing loss?
Noise is measured in decibels or dB. Noise-related hearing loss can occur after a single exposure to noise over 120 dB or continuous exposure to noise over 85 dB. Common everyday noises and their average dB are detailed below.
- 110-140 dB- Examples of sounds in this range are fireworks and emergency service sirens. Exposure to noise at this level for only 1 minute can cause permanent damage to your hearing.
- 85-110 dB- Sporting events, lawnmowers, and motorcycles can produce noises in this range. Continuous or repeated exposure to these levels can also cause permanent hearing loss.
Normal conversations are in the 60-70 dB range and are considered safe sound levels.
How to protect your hearing
There are several ways to track and protect your hearing from damage. There are devices called Sound Level Meters, or SLMs, that are available as both individual devices as well as apps on smartphones. These meters can be used to measure the sound level in dB where you and the device are located.
If you are going to an event where the noise is expected to be loud such as a sporting event or concert, it is a good idea to bring earplugs or headphones. Ear plugs are small and easy to carry in your purse or pockets. By wearing ear protection, you can help prevent hearing loss from noise exposure.
What should you do if you suspect hearing loss?
Hearing loss from noise exposure can present itself with or without tinnitus. Tinnitus is the medical term for ringing in the ears. If you are experiencing tinnitus or have noticed any changes to your ability to hear and understand others, make an appointment with a hearing health provider such as an audiologist.
When you first visit a hearing care provider n audiologist they will review past occupational and medical history as well as any symptoms you are experiencing. From there, they will likely recommend a hearing test.
A hearing test involves sitting in a soundproof room and testing various frequencies at different volumes to determine if there is any hearing deficit. After the test, a graph will show how well you hear each sound by comparing the frequency with the volume.
With this information, your hearing health provider will then be able to recommend the best course of treatment.
Treatment for Hearing Loss
Treatment for hearing loss related to noise exposure is most often in the form of hearing aids. Using the information from the hearing test, digital hearing aids are programmed to amplify only the exact frequencies needed and nothing else. Hearing aids today also come with settings to reduce background noise and connect to Bluetooth devices, both of which can help to control future noise exposure.
Ultimately prevention is the best method to avoid hearing loss from noise exposure. Understand your environments and the potential risks they have from noise. You can still go to exciting events like concerts, sporting games, and firework shows – just be prepared with earplugs and headphones.
If you have noticed any changes to your hearing or have experienced tinnitus, make an appointment with a hearing care provider today to discuss your treatment options.
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