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Hearing Loss Explained: Symptoms, Causes, and Risk Factors

Hearing Loss Explained: Symptoms, Causes, and Risk Factors

Hearing loss that occurs over time as you get older is not uncommon, with a large percentage of the older population around the world dealing with some kind of hearing loss. Hearing loss is defined as one of three sensorineural types involving the inner ear, conductive, involving the outer or middle ear, or a combination of both of these. The two biggest contributors to hearing loss are getting older and chronic, long-term loud noise exposure. There are several other factors such as having a lot of earwax that can cause a temporary reduction in how well you can hear. Most types of hearing loss cannot be reversed, but there are treatment options available that can help you manage the condition.

Symptoms and Signs of Hearing Loss

You may want to speak to an audiologist near me if you are experiencing symptoms such as hearing muffled sounds and speech, an increasing need to turn up the volume of the TV or the phone when you are talking on it, withdrawing from conversations due to an inability to keep up with them, difficulties understanding words, especially when you are in a crowd or there is a lot of background noise, often asking others to speak louder and more clearly, and avoiding social settings. Seek medical attention as soon as possible if you experience a sudden loss of your hearing, especially if it is only affecting one ear.

How Hearing Works

The ear is made up of three main areas – the inner, middle, and outer ears. Throughout the outer ear, sound waves travel when you hear something. This causes vibrations, which are amplified by the eardrum and bones located in the middle ear. Once at the inner ear, the vibrations will travel through fluid in the cochlea. There are lots of tiny hairs that are located on nerve cells within the cochlea, which transmit these vibrations to the brain as sounds by translating them into electrical signals.

Risk Factors for Hearing Loss

While hearing loss can happen to anybody and at any age, some factors might put you at a higher risk of losing your hearing. Aging is a natural process that may lead to hearing loss as the inner ear structures naturally deteriorate over time. Genetics can also play a part, along with some illnesses and medications. Exposure to loud noises over time, including occupational and recreational noises, can also increase your risk of losing your hearing. You may be at a higher risk if you take part in a lot of noisy activities like motorcycling or listening to loud music, or if your job requires that you use noisy machinery.

Potential Hearing Loss Causes

There are several different potential reasons behind hearing loss. These include:

Inner Ear Damage

There are several potential causes of inner ear damage, including the natural aging process and being exposed to loud noises over time. These can both lead to the wearing of the nerve cells or tiny hairs located in the cochlea which are responsible for transmitting sound waves to your brain. If these nerve cells or hairs are missing, or have become damaged, electrical signals are no longer transmitted as effectively to the brain, which results in hearing loss. Over time, it might be harder for you to make out higher-pitched tones or determine words that are spoken from the background noises.

Ear Infections, Tumours, and Bone Growths

When they occur in the middle or outer ear, infections, bone growths, and tumors can all be problems that lead to hearing loss. The good news is that unlike other types of hearing loss, these may be reversible. In the case of an infection, for example, antibiotics and other treatments to clear the infection may work, allowing you to get your full range of hearing back. Bone growths and tumors may be treated with surgery.

Earwax Build-up

Another potential cause of usually temporary hearing loss is a build-up of earwax. Earwax is a natural occurrence in your ears to keep them healthy, but over time too much of it can be produced, causing a blockage in the ear canal, which ultimately prevents the proper conduction of sound waves. Thankfully, there are lots of safe and effective treatments available to remove earwax, which will help to restore your hearing.

Ruptured Eardrum

A ruptured eardrum can be a painful condition that may leave your ear more prone to infection and other problems. Along with this, it can affect your hearing either temporarily or more permanently. There are lots of things that may lead to a ruptured eardrum including poking your eardrum with an object such as an earbud, loud blasts of noise close to the ear, sudden changes in ear pressure, and infections.

Hearing loss is most common in older people, but anybody can be at risk of losing or damaging their hearing.

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