How Do I Know If I’m Losing My Hearing?
Dr. Angel Rivera
Turning up the volume, watching television with subtitles, and asking friends and family members to repeat themselves may be a bit unnerving and cause you to think you’re losing your ability to hear.
However, these signs in and of themselves don’t necessarily indicate you’re suffering from hearing loss.
Hearing loss is a complicated issue that needs to be diagnosed by an audiologist through a hearing test called an audiogram.
Together, we’ll talk about the testing process, the signs and symptoms that indicate hearing loss, and what you can do to regain your hearing ability.
What Is Hearing Loss?
There are several different types of hearing loss and different degrees of hearing loss.
Some people may have hearing loss that only prevents them from hearing certain sounds, like high-frequency noises or pitches.
Other people may have profound hearing loss, which is so severe they are considered deaf.
Hearing loss is typically classified into two categories and can also be experienced unilaterally (hearing loss in one ear) or bilaterally (hearing loss in both ears).
Sensorineural Hearing Loss
This type of hearing loss affects the structures inside the inner ear, including the cochlea, the tiny hair cells that lay inside the cochlea, the semicircular canals, the vestibular nerve, and the auditory nerve.
Conductive Hearing Loss
This type of hearing loss affects the outer and middle ear structures.
These include the pinna, the ear canal, the eardrum, and the three tiny bones of the inner ear.
Most of the time, conductive hearing loss occurs due to a genetic abnormality in the ear's structure or trauma to the ear. It can also be temporary, caused by a blockage in the ear, like a buildup of earwax, an ear infection, or a foreign object.
Signs of Hearing Loss
Not hearing as well as you used to can be a hearing loss, but this symptom alone isn’t usually enough to diagnose a true loss of hearing.
Here, we cover some of the most common symptoms of hearing loss.
Difficulty Hearing In Crowds
Background noise can make it difficult for anyone to hear clearly.
Still, if you find it virtually impossible to focus on conversations in a noisy environment or a crowded restaurant, it can be a sign of possible hearing loss.
Many people experience this type of hearing impairment as one of the first signs of hearing loss.
You may also find it difficult to concentrate on simple tasks if there is loud music playing or if background noise is abundant.
Hearing Muffled Speech
Suddenly, it seems like everyone around you is mumbling or skipping over certain letters when they speak. It may be hard to hear the consonants F, S, and H.
You may find yourself leaning in to hear properly or asking people to speak up.
Ringing or buzzing in the ears that is either constant or comes and goes can indicate an issue with your inner ears and may indicate damage from loud noises.
Tinnitus can happen without hearing loss, but if you begin to develop it, it’s a good idea to have your hearing checked.
Turning Up the Volume
Trouble hearing the television or radio may not necessarily indicate you’re losing your hearing.
Still, hearing loss could be an issue if you always need the volume turned up louder, whether at home, in a theater, auditorium, or car.
A prominent symptom of hearing loss that often goes unnoticed is social withdrawal.
When it becomes difficult to hear others or focus on conversation, a person with hearing loss can feel lost or uncomfortable.
This may lead them to skip social situations where they feel unable to communicate with others properly.
Causes of Hearing Loss
Hearing loss has several common causes, not all of which involve loud noise.
Age-Related Hearing Loss
Some hearing loss happens as a natural part of aging.
Age-related hearing loss, known as presbycusis, is a type of sensorineural hearing loss that happens gradually.
Normally, this type of hearing loss is experienced in people over 65.
Exposure to loud sounds (considered any sound over 75 decibels) can damage your hearing.
Long-term exposure to loud sounds and impulse sounds like fireworks or gunshots can lead to permanent hearing loss.
Diseases and Illnesses
Some diseases and illnesses can lead to hearing loss. Recurrent ear infections may make it difficult for you to hear temporarily; over time, they may cause damage that leads to hearing loss.
Otosclerosis, a condition that causes an overgrowth of the bones of the middle ear, can also cause hearing to be compromised.
Treatment Options for Hearing Loss
If you’re losing your hearing, don’t panic.
Many options for regaining your ability to hear are non-invasive and don’t involve large, noticeable devices.
Technological advances have made it possible for manufacturers to develop hearing aids that are very low-profile and barely visible when worn.
Hearing aids may also pair to your favorite devices via Bluetooth capabilities.
Additionally, they typically auto-adjust to ensure your level of hearing ability is consistent no matter what type of environment you are in.
Cochlear implants may be an option for hearing problems involving a severe hearing impairment.
These surgically inserted devices bypass the damaged parts of the ear and deliver sound waves directly to the auditory nerve.
The nerve then sends the information to the brain to be interpreted as sound.
Assistive Listening Devices (ALDs)
Certain devices can make it easier for you to hear in certain situations, especially if you don’t require hearing aids or hearing assistance full-time.
These devices range from headphones that amplify sound to teletypewriter devices that automatically translate voice to text in real time.
Using these devices in noisy environments or large auditoriums can help you hear clearly and increase your ability to enjoy these situations.
Diagnosing Hearing Loss
Your audiologist or healthcare professional can administer tests that can determine whether you have experienced hearing loss.
During the testing process, you’ll respond when you hear certain noises and frequencies played through headphones in each ear.
You may also answer questions regarding your ability to hear conversations in noisy places or how you interact with others on a social basis.
This information, combined with your audiogram results, can help your doctor determine your level of hearing loss if any.
Healthy Hearing For Life
Prevention is the best way to protect your remaining hearing. Wearing earplugs or hearing protection when exposed to loud noise and ensuring you listen to music or television at lower levels will help keep your ears safe from damage.
For more information, check out the USA Rx Hearing Loss Informational Blog.
Here, you’ll find tips for protecting your hearing and learn about other treatment options for hearing loss.