Hearing Loss Information


Most hearing losses occur gradually, so the symptoms are often difficult to recognize.


People might begin turning up the volume on the TV or asking others to repeat themselves. When our hearing begins to fade we tend to forget how things sound. We start to live in a quieter world, unaware that we are missing the softer sounds of everyday life – like the patter of rain or the songs of birds. It might be time to consult a hearing care specialist if you are experiencing one or more of the following problems:

  • People seem to be mumbling
  • You have to strain to hear when someone talks or whispers
  • You have difficulty hearing someone call from behind or from another room
  • You need to watch a speaker’s lips more closely to follow conversation
  • Following a conversation is difficult when you’re in a group of people, for example at a meeting, at church, or during lectures
  • You have to turn up the volume on the TV or radio
  • You have problems hearing clearly on the telephone
  • You have difficulty hearing at the theater, cinema, or other entertainment venues
  • It’s hard to hear in noisy environments, for example in a restaurant or in a car
  • You have begun to limit your social activities due to difficulty hearing and communicating
  • Family, friends, or colleagues mention that they often have to repeat themselves

How does hearing work?

Hearing consists of turning sound waves from our environment into electrical signals for our brains to interpret them. When you encounter a sound wave (someone talking, a car passing by, a dog barking) it enters your ear and travels down the ear canal. The sound wave hits the eardrum causing it to vibrate. This vibration is then transmitted to three bones that are located in the middle ear. Once the vibration enters the middle ear, it is amplified then sent to the cochlea. The fluid in the cochlea begins to create tiny waves causing hair structures to begin to move. The hairs in the cochlea move at several different frequencies. These movements are turned into electrical signals that are sent to the brain through the auditory nerve. These electrical signals are then interpreted by the brain into the sounds we hear.

What is hearing loss and its effects?

Hearing loss is when you have a decreased ability to hear the sounds around you. Hearing loss usually affects the person's ability to hear high-frequency sounds.

Hearing loss can begin to affect our personal lives, when understanding others can become a problem. Friends and family may become frustrated when those with hearing loss begin to have trouble keeping up with conversations or understanding what is said. Hearing loss can increase frustration and irritability for the person experiencing it when having to repeat themselves or if they get information incorrect.

When experiencing hearing loss some people may begin to feel isolated due to the limited ability to hear and join in the conversations around them. In some studies, hearing loss has been linked to the development of depression. Looking for changes in behaviors or avoidance of activities they previously enjoyed are important when having a loved one with hearing loss. These are early signs of feelings of sadness or isolation.

Often times people are aware they are having difficulty hearing but are reluctant to seek out solutions. Family members may also be leery of bringing the topic up with their loved one(s). Recent studies have shown that 30% of adults, age 70 years and older who could have increased hearing ability through the use of hearing aids have never used them before. Hearing loss occurs in approximately 37.5 million people aged 18 and over in the United States. Talking to your doctor could help increase your living quality.

Types of hearing loss.

There are two types of hearing loss; sensorineural and conductive. It is a possibility to have a combination of the two.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss

This occurs when the hairs in the cochlea become damaged. Sensorineural hearing loss includes age-related hearing loss as well as hearing loss caused by loud noises. This is permanent hearing loss. Though the nerves cannot be repaired, in many cases hearing can be increased through the use of hearing aids.

Conductive Hearing Loss

This occurs when sound waves are unable to get to the inner ear due to an obstruction or infection. This includes wax, perforated eardrum, fluid buildup, a foreign object, etc. This is temporary hearing loss and is usually repaired through cleaning or medication. This type of hearing loss will not require the use of hearing aids.

Mixed Hearing Loss

If the cause of the conductive hearing loss damages the nerves or hair structures in the cochlea it becomes a mix of sensorineural hearing loss and conductive hearing loss. The damage will be permanent. However, you will want to contact a doctor to remove or treat the cause of the damage and see if hearing aids can help increase your hearing ability.

Causes of hearing loss

Hearing loss can be caused by several different things including genetics, age, noise, disease, and illness.

Genetics

Statistics show that as many as 3 out of 1000 children have some level of hearing loss when they are born. Hearing loss can be hereditary and passed down in families. There are several genetic disorders that cause hearing loss. Lastly, not all hearing loss caused by hereditary will present immediately, it could present later in life, or slowly decrease hearing ability over time.

Age

Age is the most common cause of hearing loss with 25% of those ages 65-74 years old, having hearing loss that significantly affects their lives. Hearing loss caused by age is called presbycusis. This is the gradual hearing loss of high pitch frequencies, as mentioned earlier. This is permanent hearing loss, but many times, although not in every case, your hearing ability can be increased through the use of hearing aids. This is usually caused by changes in the middle or inner ear, the nerves leading to the brain, or cardiovascular changes as a person gets older.

Loud sounds (noise)

Hearing loss can be caused by exposure to loud sounds in your environment. The loud sounds can begin to damage the hairs in the cochlea causing hearing loss. Depending on the decibel of the sound, the exposure time varies. For noises like a lawn mower, blow dryer, or blender, which measures about 85-90 decibels, 8 hours of exposure will begin to damage your hearing. The louder the noise the shorter the exposure time needed to cause damage. 100-110 decibel sounds will cause damage within 2 hours while 120 decibels and over, will begin to damage your hearing within 30 seconds.

It is important to wear ear protection when in areas with loud noises to reduce the risk of hearing loss. It is also important when wearing earbuds or headphones to use a reasonable volume level.

Disease and illness

There are several diseases and illness that can cause hearing loss as well. This may include Otosclerosis, Meniere's disease, autoimmune ear disease, congenital hearing loss, etc. Not all hearing loss related to disease or illness is permanent. While there are some diseases and illnesses where hearing cannot be repaired or assisted, others may require surgery or the use of hearing aids to restore some level of hearing.

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