According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, about 15% of American adults (37.5 million) aged 18 and over report some trouble hearing. Hearing loss has impact across age, gender, and status. However only 16% of adults with hearing loss who could benefit from hearing aids actually use them.
Outer and middle ear
Conductive Hearing Loss
Conductive hearing loss is caused by problems in the outer and middle ear, which can prevent sounds getting through to the inner ear. Essentially it is when sound is impeded while going to the inner ear. This could be a build-up of wax in the ear canal, infection, perforated eardrums, fluid in the middle ear, or issues involving the middle ear bones. Soft sounds may be hard to hear and loud sounds may appear to be muffled. Medicine or surgery can often improve this type of hearing loss.
Inner ear hearing loss
Sensorineural hearing loss happens when nerve fibers in the inner ear get damaged. It can be caused by exposure to loud noise, but the most common causes of sensorineural hearing loss are the natural processes of aging. This type of hearing loss is mostly permanent.
Degrees of hearing loss
A hearing test measures your range of hearing loss in decibels (dB). The higher the dB you need to hear sounds, the more serious your hearing loss. Normal hearing will be able to hear leaves rustle, understand most whispers and have little to no trouble in one on one conversations. Slight to mild hearing loss will often feel as if they have no issue, but rather people need to "speak up" or not "mumble". Moderate and moderately severe will often have significant difficulty in groups and most social situations.
Common signs of hearing loss
1. Do people around you mumble or speak softly?
2. Do you find conversations in restaurants or crowded places difficult?
3. Do you often have to turn up the volume on your TV, radio or phone?
4. Do people mention your television is too loud?
5. Do family members complain that they have to repeat what they say to you?
6. Do you have to look at people’s faces in order to be able to understand what they are saying, have masks made a noticeable difference in your understanding of others?
Consequences of hearing loss
• Increased listening effort
When fewer sounds are heard, it’s harder for the brain to recognize sounds. It has to fill in the gaps, which requires more listening effort and leads to fatigue.
• Increased mental load
When sounds are missing it is harder to determine what people are saying and what’s happening. This increases the mental load on the brain and leaves less mental capacity for staying engaged in the conversation.
• Reorganized brain functionality
Without enough stimulation in the hearing center, the visual center and other senses start to compensate, which changes the function of the brain.
• Social isolation and depression
People with untreated hearing loss can end up avoiding social gatherings because they’re unable to cope with complex sound environments.
• Poor balance and fall-related injuries
Untreated hearing loss can affect balance, increasing the risk of fall-related injuries.