Man holding hand to ear struggling to hear

Your odds of developing hearing loss at some time in your life are regrettably quite high, even more so as you get older. In the US, 48 million individuals report some degree of hearing loss, including almost two-thirds of adults age 70 and older.

That’s the reason it’s critical to understand hearing loss, so that you can detect the symptoms and take precautionary measures to avoid injury to your hearing. In this article, we’re going to concentrate on the most widespread type of hearing loss: sensorineural hearing loss.

The three types of hearing loss

In general, there are three types of hearing loss:

  1. Conductive hearing loss
  2. Sensorineural hearing loss
  3. Mixed hearing loss (a combination of conductive and sensorineural)

Conductive hearing loss is less common and is caused by some type of blockage in the outer or middle ear. Frequent causes of conductive hearing loss include ear infections, perforated eardrums, benign tumors, impacted earwax, and hereditary malformations of the ear.

This article will focus on sensorineural hearing loss as it is by far the most common.

Sensorineural hearing loss

This category of hearing loss is the most prevalent and makes up about 90 percent of all documented hearing loss. It results from injury to the hair cells (nerves of hearing) of the inner ear or to the nerves connecting the inner ear to the brain.

With sensorineural hearing loss, sound waves enter through the outer ear, hit the eardrum, and reach the inner ear (the cochlea and hair cells) as normal. However, as a result of damage to the hair cells (the very small nerve cells of hearing), the sound signal that is conveyed to the brain for processing is weakened.

This diminished signal is perceived as faint or muffled and normally has an effect on speech more than other types of lower-pitched sounds. Also, in contrast to conductive hearing loss, sensorineural hearing loss is ordinarily permanent and can’t be remedied with medication or surgery.

Causes and symptoms

Sensorineural hearing loss has several possible causes, including:

  • Genetic disorders
  • Family history of hearing loss
  • Meniere’s Disease or other disorders
  • Head injuries
  • Benign tumors
  • Exposure to loud noise
  • The aging process (presbycusis)

The last two, direct exposure to loud noise and the aging process, constitute the most widespread causes of sensorineural hearing loss, which is honestly good news since it suggests that the majority of cases of hearing loss can be avoided (you can’t prevent aging, of course, but you can regulate the collective exposure to sound over the course of your lifetime).

To understand the signs and symptoms of sensorineural hearing loss, you should always remember that injury to the nerve cells of hearing almost always unfolds very slowly. Consequently, the symptoms progress so slowly and gradually that it can be virtually impossible to notice.

A slight measure of hearing loss every year will not be very detectable to you, but after many years it will be very noticeable to your family and friends. So although you might think everyone is mumbling, it may be that your hearing loss is catching up to you.

Here are some of the symptoms to look for:

  • Trouble understanding speech
  • Difficulty following conversions, particularly with more than one person
  • Turning up the television and radio volume to excess levels
  • Regularly asking other people to repeat themselves
  • Perceiving muffled sounds or ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • Becoming exceedingly exhausted at the end of the day

If you recognize any of these symptoms, or have had people tell you that you may have hearing loss, it’s best to book a hearing test. Hearing tests are fast and pain-free, and the earlier you treat hearing loss the more hearing you’ll be able to preserve.

Prevention and treatment

Sensorineural hearing loss is mostly preventable, which is great news because it is by far the most common form of hearing loss. Millions of cases of hearing loss in the US could be avoided by implementing some simple protective measures.

Any sound higher than 80 decibels (the volume of city traffic inside your car) can potentially harm your hearing with chronic exposure.

As the decibel level increases, the amount of time of safe exposure decreases. That means at 100 decibels (the volume of a rock concert), any exposure over 15 minutes could impair your hearing.

Here are a few tips on how you can prevent hearing loss:

  • Employ the 60/60 rule – when listening to a mp3 player with headphones, listen for no more than 60 minutes at no more than 60 percent of the max volume. Also consider purchasing noise-canceling headphones, as these will require lower volumes.
  • Shield your ears at live shows – rock concerts can vary from 100-120 decibels, significantly above the threshold of safe volume (you could injure your hearing within 15 minutes). Minimize the volume with the aid of foam earplugs or with musician’s plugs that preserve the quality of the music.
  • Protect your ears at your workplace – if you work in a high-volume occupation, talk with your employer about its hearing protection program.
  • Safeguard your hearing at home – a number of household and recreational activities generate high-decibel sounds, including power saws, motorcycles, and firework displays. Always use ear protection during extended exposure.

If you currently have hearing loss, all hope is not lost. Hearing aids, while not able to completely restore your hearing, can substantially improve your life. Hearing aids can improve your conversations and relationships and can protect against any additional consequences of hearing loss.

If you think you may have sensorineural hearing loss, book your quick and easy hearing test today!