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Facts About Hearing Loss

Prevalence

Although many people view hearing loss as a problem associated with aging, people of all ages are susceptible to hearing loss. Below are data describing the incidence of hearing loss in the US by age:

  • 3 in 10 people over age 60 have hearing loss;
  • 1 in 6 people aged 41-59, or 14.6%, have a hearing problem;
  • 1 in 14 Generation Xers (ages 29-40), or 7.4%, already have hearing loss;
  • At least 1.4 million children (18 or younger) have hearing problems;
  • It is estimated that 3 in 1,000 infants are born with serious to profound hearing loss.

 

Types of Hearing Loss

There are two main categories of hearing loss: sensorineural and conductive. Some people will have a combination of the two. The combination is referred to as a mixed hearing loss.

Sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL) occurs when there is damage to the inner ear or along the auditory tract in the central nervous system. This is the most common type of hearing loss.

Conductive hearing loss occurs if there is some sort of mechanical obstruction that prevents sound from reaching the inner ear. Obstructions may include ear wax in the ear canal, fluid in the middle ear, stiffening of the bones of the middle ear, perforation of the ear drum and other problems. Many conductive hearing problems are medically treatable.

Hearing Loss Prevention

Millions of Americans suffer from hearing loss due to exposure to hazardous levels of noise. Some people mistakenly believe that only extremely loud noises such as a gun going off near the ear can cause hearing loss, but noise exposure is a dose effect. The ‘dose effect’ means that a person can suffer the same damage from a single incident, such as a gunshot, or a long term exposure from listening to machinery or your iPod at too loud a level.

Noise induced hearing loss is the only preventable hearing loss with the use of hearing protective devices. Foam earplugs or ear muffs work well at protecting your hearing. If using plugs, be sure that the plugs are inserted well into the ear canal to receive maximum benefit.

Monitor your noise exposure. Many of us use ear buds to listen to music or movies. Check the manufacturer specifications for the device you are using and the ear buds. Some manufacturers have limited the output for one or the other, but many of these devices are capable of outputs that exceed safe listening levels, especially if listening for extended periods.

Tinnitus

Tinnitus (pronounced either /tén ? t?s/ or /ten eýe t?s/) is the perception of a sound that has no external source. The listener may perceive the sound in one or both ears, in the head, or sometimes can sound as though it is somewhere outside of the body. Tinnitus is a common phenomenon associated with hearing loss. However, tinnitus is also related to many other health problems including blood pressure problems, head injury, medication side effect, TMJ, and more.

The effects of tinnitus can vary a great deal from person to person. While many people find tinnitus to be only a mild annoyance, for some individuals tinnitus can interfere with concentration, restful sleep, hearing, and thoughts or emotions.

Although some forms of tinnitus can be medically treated for sufferers, tinnitus is  a problem that must be managed. For many tinnitus sufferers, counseling is sufficient to manage the tinnitus problem. For others, sound therapy is sometimes beneficial. In sound therapy, background sounds are presented to the listener. Background sound may be as simple as a fan, or music, or sometimes ear-worn devices similar to (or in combination with) hearing aids; an iPod (apps available) can be used that generate low level sounds to mask the tinnitus.

Balance Problems

Balance problems are one of the most common reasons for adults to visit their doctor. Balance problems can range from a brief sensation of unsteadiness to a strong sense of spinning that can last for days. There are many causes of balance problems including diseases of the inner ear, heart, brain, circulation, musculoskeletal, infections, some medications or combinations of medications. Often a complete medical workup is required to determine the cause or causes of the balance problem. If you are experiencing balance problems, contact your physician.