This is a very common question that many are reluctant to ask—perhaps because they feel hearing loss should be obvious when it occurs. The truth, however, is that most hearing loss occurs very gradually. Here are a few warning signs to keep in mind:
Difficulty hearing people speaking from a distance
Trouble understanding people amid background noise.
Feeling that people tend to mumble quite a bit
Regularly being asked to lower the volume of your TV or radio
Often asking people to repeat what they’ve just said
Not noticing common household sounds (e.g., alarm clock, oven timer).
What is “conductive” hearing loss?
Hearing loss resulting from a blockage that prevents sound waves from being conducted through the ear canal and middle ear is called “conductive” hearing loss. It’s causes include, middle ear infections, fluid build-up behind the eardrum, perforated eardrums and otosclerosis (a stiffening of the bones in the middle ear). Conductive hearing loss tends to be very treatable.
What is “sensorineural” hearing loss?
Deep in the inner ear, there is a small organ called the cochlea. Inside the cochlea are many tiny hair cells that transmit electronic pulses to the brains. Hearing loss resulting from damage to these hair cells is called “sensorineural” hearing loss. Aging is its most common cause, but loud noise, certain medications and inherited traits can also be involved. Sensorineural hearing loss is irreversible.
Are there other types of hearing loss?
While “Conductive” and “sensorineural” are the two basic types of hearing loss, it is quite possible that both can happen in the same individual. Hearing loss in which both types are present is referred to as “mixed” hearing loss.
How is hearing loss measured?
Sound, in general, is measured in units called “decibels.” Hearing loss is measured by noting what decibel levels an individual has difficulty hearing. For instance, mild hearing loss is recognized as difficulty in hearing softer tones in the 20-40 decibel range (e.g., certain consonant sounds in normal speech). Profound hearing loss, on the other end of the spectrum, is the inability to hear large sounds of 95 decibels or more (e.g., a motorcycle).
How big a problem is hearing loss?
Worldwide, about 360 million people are affected by hearing loss; that’s more than 5% of the people on the planet. Half of all hearing loss cases could be avoided through prevention and medical treatment if people have access to the knowledge and medical expertise.
How exactly does hearing work?
While it seems that we simply hear with our ears, the process is a lot more complex. As with all of our senses, the brain is where sound is identified. In order for the brain to register sound, the ear captures sound waves and funnels them through the ear canal, where they vibrate the eardrum. The eardrum, in turn, sets into motion a series of very small bones, called the ossicles. The vibrations of the ossicles are absorbed by an organ called the cochlea, which contains tiny hair cells that convert those vibrations into electrical impulses that travel along the auditory nerve and into the brain, where they are recognized as the many familiar sounds we experience in our everyday lives.
Are loud noises really dangerous to our hearing?
Very much so. Sound causes pressure on the internal organs that enable us to hear. Excess pressure is damaging to the mechanisms of hearing just as excessive pressure in an engine is dangerous to an automobile. This is especially true for people who spend a lot of time around loud noises due to their work or leisure activities; that’s why hearing health professionals recommend wearing hearing protection when noise levels are at 85 decibels or higher. Even operating a lawn mower over long periods of time, without hearing protection, can lead to some degree of hearing loss.
Is hearing health connected at all to overall health?
In a word—yes. In fact, people with hearing loss tend to miss work due to sickness more often than people without hearing loss. Among the possible health effects of hearing loss: changes to the immune system, fatigue from trying too hard to understand people, frustration/depression anger, increased sicknesses and hospital visits, impaired memory and an increased risk of dementia. There’s also the risk of injury that comes from not being able to hear traffic signals and alarms.
What happens if you ignore hearing loss?
There is plenty of information available to answer this question, because most people diagnosed with hearing loss don’t do anything about it. There are all sorts of reasons, ranging from, “It’s just not all that much of a problem right now” to “I am not about to admit that I might need a hearing aid.” Aside from increasing your risk of health problems, hearing loss can seriously damage personal relationships, work performance and overall quality of life.
Is there a connection between hearing loss and dementia?
While no direct connection has been found, it is generally accepted that people with hearing loss are definitely at a greater risk of dementia. For instance, when an individual has hearing loss, the brain has to work harder than it should have to in order to decipher sound. As hearing loss increases, demands on the brain increase. Overtaxing the brain over a long period of time may open the door to dementia. The difficulty of living with hearing loss may also cause someone to withdraw from people out of embarrassment or frustration, which can lead to social isolation—a recognized risk factor for dementia.
Frequently Asked Questions About Hearing Aids
What are the benefits of wearing hearing aids?
Aside from the obvious answer (“They help you hear better”) hearing aids are proven to make life happier for the people who wear them. Hearing aids make it easier to interact with people socially and feel better connected to friends and family. They give people confidence when they’re out and about, involved in the simple bits of communication that get you through a day at the office or a weekend of running errands. Given the connection of hearing loss to various physical ailments, hearing aids also contribute to better overall health.
When should I consider a hearing aid?
As soon as you suspect you may have hearing loss, you should have your hearing professionally tested. If hearing loss is diagnosed, your hearing health professional will tell you if your loss is of a type and degree at which a hearing aid is the best current option.
What is a “nano” hearing aid?
Also known as an IIC (invisible in the canal), a nano if an exceptionally small hearing aid that is inserted deep in the ear canal where no one can see it.
What is a CIC hearing aid?
A CIC (completely in the canal) hearing aid is a type hat is specially molded to fit just inside the ear canal. While it isn’t completely invisible, people will have to get a very close look in order to see it.
What is a “half shell” hearing aid?
In-the-canal (ITC) hearing aids, also called “half shells,” are molded to sit in the outer bowl of the ear with the sound emitting portion inserted into the ear canal.
What is a “full shell” hearing aid?
Full shell hearing aids are also known as “in-the-ear” hearing aids. They fill the bowl outside the ear canal and emit sound from just outside the canal.
What is an RIC hearing aid?
RIC (receiver in the canal) hearing aids are the most popular in use today. The sound receiver is inserted into the ear and is connected to a power pack and controls that sit behind the ear.
What is a BTE hearing aid?
BTE stands for “behind the ear.” The power pack, controls and receiver all sit inside a shell that is molded to the contours of the outer shell of your ear. Sound is transmitted into the ear canal through a flexible tube.
What is a “wireless” hearing aid?
Wireless hearings are the latest in advanced hearing technology. Using Bluetooth technology, they allow you to pair your hearing aids with a mobile phone or Bluetooth compatible home electronics. Such hearing aids allow you to take and deny phone calls right on your hearing aid and control TV volume in a way that doesn’t make the sound too loud for others in the room.
Which type of hearing aid is right for me?
That question can only be answered properly by consulting a certified hearing health professional who can determine your type and degree of hearing loss, as well as which device will best help you achieve the best possible hearing. Part of that process includes deciding which type of device will work best with the shape of your ear.
How long can I expect hearing aids to last?
You’ll get the most out of hearing aids by caring for them properly and having them professionally cleaned and checked on a regular basis. If you take good care of them, you can expect to get between three and five years of service from hearing aids.
I saw an inexpensive hearing aid advertised. Should I try it?
The sound-amplifying devices you see on TV and in magazines aren’t hearing aids. They are PSAPs (personal sound amplifiers) that make all the sounds around you louder. The devices you purchase from a certified hearing professional are designed to not just amplify sound, but to distinguish between different types of sound and process them accordingly for a clear, natural hearing experience.
How many hearing aids do I need?
Your hearing health professional will help you make this decision. But if you have hearing loss in both ears, two hearing aids is a great option, even if you “still hear okay on one side.” Two hearing aids balance each other out to help you better focus on sound by making you more aware of the direction the sound is coming from. Two hearing aids also means you won’t be favoring one ear over the other. No matter which side someone speaks to you from, you’ll be able to hear what is being said.
Why are hearing aids expensive?
There are a number of reasons for the high price of quality hearing aids but one is the relatively low number sold compared to the cost of research, development and manufacturing of such sophisticated devices. If everyone who could benefit from a hearing aid actually wore one, odds are the volume would bring prices down (look what volume did for the pricing of personal computers). But since most people diagnosed with hearing loss don’t do anything about it, there probably won’t be a big price drop in hearing aids anytime soon.
Frequently Asked Questions About Hearing Aid Maintenance
Can I clean my hearing aids myself?
Absolutely. In fact, you should clean them every day. Wipe them down with a tissue or soft cloth and use a gentle brush to remove anything that wiping doesn’t remove. You should still, however, schedule professional clean-and-check appointments, where your hearing health provider will thoroughly clean your hearing aids and determine if they need any servicing or adjustments.
What sort of cleaning solution should I use on my hearing aids?
None! No alcohol, solvents or cleaning agents of any kind should come in contact with your hearing aids, Not even water. Just wipe the casing of your hearing aid with a soft, dry cloth. You can use a damp cloth on your earpieces but never on the electronics portion of the hearing aid.
What should I do if I discover cracks or tears in the earpieces of my hearing aids?
A damaged earpiece could cause feedback in your hearing aid. Replacing it is an easy procedure that your hearing health provider can take care of quickly.
What is the best way to remove ear wax from my hearing aid earpiece?
All you need to do is wipe the earpiece with a damp cloth; just be sure that you don’t get the hearing aid wet. Use a cleaning tool or brush to remove any wax that wiping leaves behind.
How do I handle moisture blocking sound in my earpiece tubing?
Remove the earpiece from your hearing aid and use a bulb-style earpiece blower or a slim tube cleaning tool to get rid of the moisture.
My earpieces feel loose and my hearing aids are feeding back. What can I do?
Earpieces can indeed come loose. If your earpiece has tubing, ask your hearing professional if the earpieces can be reset or if new earpieces are what you need. In some slim-tubing models, replacements are the only option and your hearing pro can get them easily.
Can I perform my own hearing aid sound check?
Certainly. All you need is a device called a listening tube. Connect your earpiece to one end of the tube and use the other end to listen as you speak toward your hearing aid microphone. Your voice should sound clear and undistorted; if that isn’t the case, get in touch with your hearing care professional.
I have several program settings on my hearing aid. Do I need to check them all?
It doesn’t sound like fun, but yes, you should use a listening tube to check all of the settings you have programmed into your hearing aid. If you get distortion or some other unclear sound on any program, you should contact your hearing care professional.
I’m a do-it-yourselfer. What tools do I need to work inside my hearing aid?
Please, do not, under any circumstances, open up your hearing aid and tinker with the insides. The electronics involved are very sophisticated and disturbing them will most likely void your warranty. Only a certified hearing aid professional should be trusted to make repairs and adjustments to your hearing aids.
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Don’t let a hearing problem prevent you or a loved one from enjoying life to the fullest!