A Comprehensive Guide to Hearing Loss
Hearing loss is one of the biggest public health issues facing the elderly. About 25 percent of those between 65 and 74 suffer from some form of hearing loss, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Hearing Disorders. That number increases to about 50 percent for those over 75.
Loss of hearing—even at the more mild levels—can affect your daily life and put you at risk for a slew of health concerns, especially for someone living alone. But before we get into how hearing loss affects your daily life, let’s figure out how exactly hearing loss occurs.
Table of Contents
Conductive Hearing Loss
This occurs when you have issues with the outer ear and middle ear, which include the ear canal, eardrum, and ossicles. It’s the less common form of hearing loss, and even though it can develop into a permanent issue, it is more easily treatable than the other.
Conductive Hearing Loss effects the ear canal, eardrum, and ossicles.
Sensorineural Hearing Loss
This is the most common type of hearing loss. Sensorineural hearing loss means that something is wrong with the nerve-related parts of your ear, like the cochlea and vestibulocochlear nerve, which send sound waves to the brain.
There is also a form of hearing loss called mixed hearing loss. This occurs when there are components of conductive hearing loss and sensorineural hearing loss causing the hearing issues. While treatment for conductive and sensorineural are different, audiologists recommend that you get the conductive hearing loss treated first before dealing with the sensorineural, if you have issues with both.
The National Institute on Aging points out that there is another form known as rapid hearing loss, and that seniors need to be on the lookout for. When this occurs, seniors can lose hearing all at once or over the course of a couple days. It needs to be treated immediately.
Hearing loss can onset in a multitude of ways, and how it onsets can determine what form of hearing loss you have and how it is treated. One of the primary ways you can develop hearing loss is simply by aging. It is known formally as presbycusis, but from now on we’ll refer to it as age-related hearing loss.
This condition usually affects both ears equally, gradually decreasing the usage of your ears so slowly that you may not realize it has onset until it’s progressed to a detrimental point. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) says that age-related hearing loss occurs simply because all the parts of our ear change as we age, making them less effective. (This is kind of similar to how the eyes and other organs may gradually not work as efficiently as they once did.)
Sensorineural Hearing Loss is a common form of hearing loss in which the nerve related parts of the ear are effected like the the cochlea and vestibulocochlear nerve.
What Causes Hearing Loss
This isn’t the only way seniors suffer from hearing loss, though. There are many reasons why hearing issues may develop in an older age, including:
Exposure to Noise
Overexposure to noise can cause hearing loss. Typically, consistent noise above 85 dB is what really does the damage. The noise damages the hair-like cells that exist in the ear and causes a gradual loss of hearing.
Hearing issues may just run in your family.
Suffering trauma to the head, especially the skull, can disturb the way your vestibulocochlear nerve transmits information to the brain. It can also damage your ossicles or eardrums, which are part of the sound-transmitting process.
Build-Up of Fluid
The build-up can occur on the outer portion (wax, blood) or inner part (via disease) of your ear that can affect how sound moves through the ear.
Pressure to various parts of your ear, typically from dropping to lower attitudes (like divers consistently existing in high-pressure environments underwater), can permanently damage your ear.
Consuming large amounts of Vicodin, aspirin, chemotherapy drugs, and other medications can damage the hair-like cells in your inner ear.
Autoimmune issues, diabetes, and leukemia can damage your ear from within. There’s also an ear disease called Meniere’s disease that affects one ear at a time that causes vertigo, ringing, and pressure.
When infections occur in the ear (like ones that occur from a buildup of fluid) or throughout the body (like herpes, mumps, measles, the flu, and more), your hearing can be permanently damaged.