Causes of hearing loss
Hair cells in our inner ear translate the sound waves our ears collect and send electrical signals to our brain, for it to interpret as recognizable sound. These hair cells do not regenerate or regrow over the course of our lifetime, so any damage caused to them from noise exposure, medical conditions or genetics even, is permanent. Added to this, as we get older, degeneration in the inner ear and along the nerve pathways to the brain increases, which can impact our hearing.
Whilst aging is the most common natural cause of hearing loss, there can be many other causes too. So it is important to get your hearing checked if you suffer from any loss, to help identify the root cause which may be indicative of a more serious health condition.
In the UK, over 70% of people, aged 70 or over, have hearing loss. But only about 40% of people who need hearing aids actually have them!
Common causes of hearing loss
- Exposure to loud music
- Noise at work
- Ear infections
- Excess build-up of earwax
- Side-effects of medication
- Underlying medical condition
How can we prevent hearing loss?
Age related hearing loss is inevitable, but other hearing loss experienced earlier in life due to lifestyle or work is largely preventable and treatable. Especially if the hearing loss is mild to moderate. Hearing loss can occur at any time during your life.
We should look after our hearing in the same way as our vision, protecting ourselves from loud noise and seeking help for hearing loss at an early stage.
- Avoid loud noises
- Wear ear plugs or ear protectors
- Reduce your volume when using headphones
- Treat any sign of ear infection without delay
- Don’t ignore symptoms of high blood pressure or diabetes, as these conditions contribute to hearing loss
- Check any medication you’re taking for any link to hearing loss, and ask your GP for an alternative prescription if necessary
- Book a free hearing test
Types of hearing loss
There are three types of hearing loss, and it is important to understand them so you get the personalised hearing solution that’s right for you.
Sensorineural hearing loss
- A degeneration of the nerves and sensory cells in the inner ear
- Commonly age-related
- Can present as ringing in the ears
- Gradual onset usually
- Can be caused by infection, injury or loud noise exposure
Conductive hearing loss
- A blockage in the outer or middle ear
- Presents itself as muffled or soft sound and speech
- Can be caused by injury, loud noise, ear infection or excess earwax
Mixed hearing loss
- Degeneration of the nerves and sensory cells combined with a blockage
- Presents itself as a reduction in volume and clarity
Your Audiologist will be able to determine the extent and cause of your hearing loss by checking your ears and testing your hearing.
Levels of hearing loss
Once your Audiologist tests your hearing, they will be able to advise on the severity of your hearing loss (if any) and this will be shown to you on an audiogram which plots the results of your hearing test.
Hearing loss is measured in decibels in hearing level (dBHL) and is usually grouped into the following levels:
Normal hearing (Under 20dBHL) – You can hear quiet sounds, although it is possible to have hearing difficulties even if your hearing is in this range.
Mild hearing loss (20 – 40 dBHL) – You usually struggle with quiet conversations, especially in noisy surroundings.
Moderate hearing loss (41 – 70 dBHL) – You need the TV volume turned up to hear it and you struggle with normal conversation, especially in groups.
Severe hearing loss (71 – 95 dBHL) – You have difficulty hearing any conversation and understanding what is being said.
Profound hearing loss (over 95 dBHL) – It is impossible for you to hear and understand speech and amplified devices, and you may rely on sign language and lip-reading.
Your Audiologist will talk you through your level of hearing loss, what this means for you and the hearing solutions that could help you.