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Thursday, April 30, 2020

A Brief But Comprehensive Guide To Hearing Loss

15% of American adults aged 18 and over experience hearing loss - that’s approximately 40 million people, and yet, like so many disabilities, it is seldom spoken about. Whether you are currently experiencing hearing loss yourself or have fully functioning hearing, the key to breaking down the stigma around hearing loss is education - so here is a brief but comprehensive guide to hearing loss, so that you can begin advocating for yourself and the rest of the hearing loss community.

What is hearing loss?
Hearing loss is a very broad term used to describe a loss of hearing in one or both ears. Although hearing loss often occurs gradually as you age, it can also affect younger people and can be caused by other lifestyle factors. There are three types of hearing loss:

  1. Conductive - involving the outer and middle part of the ear
  2. Sensorineural - involving the inner ear 
  3. Mixed - involving a combination of the inner, outer and middle ear

What causes hearing loss?
Hearing loss is most common in those over the age of 65 and happens naturally as people age. As people get older, their inner ear structures and hair cells degrade over time, gradually causing a loss of hearing. Aside from simply getting older hearing loss can also be caused by:

  • Exposure to loud noises 
  • Exposure to loud noises over 85 decibels is one of the most common causes of hearing loss in those under 65. Explosions, power tools, loud music, gunshots, and machinery can all cause damage to the ear, either causing damage to the inner ear cells or rupturing the eardrum.
  • Illness 
  • Aside from loud noises, hearing loss can also be caused by illnesses such as severe ear infections, ear cancer, and meningitis.

Does hearing loss cause other health issues?
Yes, there are two hearing loss health effects that people should be aware of including, cognitive decline and an increased chance of experiencing depression. New research is showing a strong link between hearing loss and an early cognitive decline, showing that the brain heavily relies upon hearing for stimulation. Similarly, strong links have been found between depression and hearing loss, mostly as a result of the isolation and communication difficulties that hearing loss can cause.

How can you prevent hearing loss?
Age-related hearing loss is difficult to prevent, so it is vital that you do all you can to look after your ears while you are young to give you the best chance of hearing well in the future. Some things you can do to protect your ears include:

  • Wearing ear protection
  • If you know that you are going to be exposed to loud noise such as a gunshot or machinery, then always make sure to wear adequate ear protection. Earmuffs and earplugs can reduce loud noises by up to 30 decibels, taking them below the risk level and protecting your ears.
  • Turning your volume down
  • Rather than turning your music up to a high volume, instead, invest in a good quality pair of headphones that will provide a better quality sound that you won’t need to turn up so loud.
  • Visiting an audiologist regularly
  • We visit the dentist for our teeth and the opticians for our eyes, so be sure not to forget a visit to the audiologist for your ears. Hearing loss can be very gradual, often going as many as 7 years before being detected, so be sure to have your hearing tested regularly so that you can catch it early.
  • Not attempting to remove ear wax yourself
  • Never put anything inside your ears, including cotton buds. Attempting to clean your own ears will only result in pushing the earwax further into the ear canal, causing compaction. Instead, book an appointment with your audiologist or hearing specialist who will be able to remove any build-up of earwax safely.

How can you tell if you have hearing loss?
If you are worried about your hearing then the first thing that you should do is to book an appointment with your audiologist so that they can conduct a hearing test. Don’t take tests online as these are not accurate and don’t put off making an appointment. If you are worried about the hearing of someone else, then breach the subject tactfully and suggest that they too accompany you to the audiologist to have their own hearing tested. Hearing loss can be a very sensitive subject, and so it is important to be sensitive when bringing it up with other people.

So there you have it - a quick but comprehensive guide to hearing loss - have you learned anything new?
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