The Causes of Acquired Hearing Loss 

The Causes of Acquired Hearing Loss

There are three types of hearing loss: sensorineural, conductive, and mixed. Accounting for 90% of all cases of hearing loss, sensorineural hearing loss is categorized as acquired or congenital.

  • Acquired: refers to hearing loss that is developed after a person is born and typically later in life.
  • Congenital: is far less common, and refers to hearing loss that occurs during fetal development. Causes include maternal diabetes, lack of oxygen, and infectious diseases.

Acquired hearing loss is the most common type of hearing impairment that people experience. It is the result of damage in the inner ear which plays a crucial role in how we hear. The inner ear is filled with thousands of hair cells, fluid, and nerve pathways that lead to the brain. These hair cells help translate sound waves into electrical signals for the brain to process which is how we are able to make sense of what we hear. Unlike other types of cells, hair cells in the inner ear do not regenerate; meaning that we are born with all of the hair cells we will ever have. This also means that any damage is permanent and results in acquired hearing loss.

Causes

There are several factors that can contribute to the development of acquired hearing loss including:

  • Aging: known as presbycusis, age related hearing loss is the third most common chronic health conditions that older adults experience. As one ages, the risk of impaired hearing increases. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders:
    • 25% of adults ages 65 to 74 have hearing loss
    • 50% of adults ages 75 and older have disabling hearing loss

This type of hearing loss can be caused by structural changes to the ear, changes in blood flow, and existing medical conditions.

  • Exposure to Loud Noise: generally referred to as noise induced hearing loss, this is caused by absorbing increased levels of noise which damage the hair cells in the inner ear. Sound is measured in decibels and noise above 85 decibels is potentially harmful to our hearing. High levels of sound can be absorbed at concerts, sporting events, workplace, listening to music etc. According to the Hearing Health Foundation:
    • 30 million people in the U.S. are exposed to hazardous noise levels.
    • Nearly 50% of people aged 12-35 years could be exposed to unsafe noise from personal listening devices, and 40% in this age group could be exposed to potentially damaging levels of sound at entertainment venues.
  • Physical Trauma: damage to the ear can also be caused by physical injury and/or acoustic trauma. Injuries to the head area, exposure to one-time loud noises (explosion for example) can cause hearing loss. This is an increased risk for athletes and people in the military.
  • Existing Medical Conditions: there are various conditions that can contribute to hearing loss such as hypertension, obesity, cardiovascular disease, viral infections, and diabetes. These conditions impact blood flow, inflammation, nerves etc. which are critical to the auditory system.

Another cause is medications and chemicals that are damaging to hearing health. Acquired hearing loss is a permanent condition that has a range of symptoms.

Symptoms

Acquired hearing loss reduces one’s ability to hear and process sound. Specifically, this type of hearing loss impacts the volume and clarity of sounds. People often find:

    • Quieter sounds are too quiet to hear but loud sounds are too loud to hear
    • Reduced ability to hear high pitched sounds
    • Difficulty hearing especially in environments with background noise
    • Increasing volume on electronic devices

These symptoms make it challenging to distinguish words and follow an entire conversation. If left untreated, symptoms can worsen, deepening the impairment as well as increasing your risk of other health concerns.

Treatment

Fortunately, there are effective ways hearing loss is treated. The first step is to schedule an appointment with a hearing healthcare specialist to have your hearing assessed. Hearing tests are a noninvasive way to identify any impairment, the degree, and specific type of hearing loss you may be experiencing.

The most common treatment for hearing loss is hearing aids which are small, electronic devices designed to absorb, amplify, and process sound. This increases one’s ability to hear and can drastically improve the quality of your life!

A Link Between Hearing Loss & Dementia 

A Link Between Hearing Loss & Dementia

Dementia is a chronic health condition that impacts nearly 6 million people in the U.S. Dementia refers to a range of diseases that are characterized by cognitive decline: memory loss, difficulty concentrating, reduced ability to solve problems and make decisions etc. These symptoms restrict one’s capacity to manage daily life independently. There are several types of dementia that include Lewy Body, Parkinson’s, vascular, and Alzheimer’s disease. 

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s accounts for 60-80% of all types of dementia that people experience. Dementia is a condition that is irreversible so identifying risk factors is incredibly crucial in establishing ways that it can be prevented or delayed. Significant research has shown that hearing loss increases the risk for cognitive decline. 

Understanding Hearing Loss 

A pervasive health issue, hearing loss impacts millions of people. There is a range of factors that can cause hearing loss including existing medical conditions, genetic history, and environmental exposure to loud noise. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders

    • Nearly 1 in 8 people (ages 12 and older) have some degree of hearing loss in one or both ears
    • 25% of adults ages 65-74 have hearing loss 
    • 50% of adults 75 and older have hearing loss 

These statistics highlight that hearing loss is the third most common medical condition that older adults navigate. Impaired hearing restricts one’s ability to absorb and process sound. This (most commonly) is the result of damaged hair cells in the inner ear. The inner ear consists of thousands of hair cells and nerve endings that help translate soundwaves into electrical signals for the brain to process which is how we are able to make sense of what we hear. These hair cells do not regenerate, meaning that when they are damaged, the impairment is permanent. Hearing loss strains communication which if left untreated, can take a toll on relationships and impact job performance. Additionally, hearing loss also contributes to the development of various other medical conditions including cognitive decline.

Link Between Hearing Loss & Dementia

Research has shown that there is a significant correlation between hearing loss and dementia which are chronic health issues that disproportionately impact older adults: 

    • 80% of people who have Alzheimer’s are 75 and older
    • 50% of adults aged 75 and older have disabling hearing loss 

Understanding the nature of how these conditions are related continues to be the subject of ongoing research. In a major study, published in 2019, researchers investigated this link by collecting data on self-reported hearing loss and cognitive decline. Conducted at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (Boston), researchers carried out an 8-year study involving 10,107 participants. Beginning in 2008, participants who had no cognitive concerns, self-reported their hearing status and cognitive function. Collected every four years (2008, 2012, and 2016), the findings revealed that the development of hearing loss increased the risk of cognitive decline. Specifically, cognitive decline was: 

    • 30% higher among people with mild hearing loss 
    • 42% higher among people with moderate hearing loss 
    • 54% higher among people with severe hearing loss 

These findings not only show that cognitive decline was more likely with people who had hearing loss but also that the greater the hearing loss, the increased chance that someone developed cognitive decline. Exactly how this happens continues to be further investigated. Researchers suggest that the presence of hearing loss renders parts of the brain (responsible for how we hear) inactive. The brain cells, muscles, and nerve pathways that are not being used (because of hearing impairment) then impacts overall cognitive function.  

Treating Hearing Loss 

A critical way to prevent or delay the development of dementia is by treating hearing loss. Addressing hearing loss is relatively simple and starts by scheduling an appointment for a hearing test. Conducted by our team of hearing healthcare specialists, hearing tests involve a noninvasive process that determines any impairment, the degree, and specific type of hearing loss you may be experiencing. 

Hearing loss is most commonly treated by hearing aids which are electronic devices designed to absorb, amplify, and process sound. This significantly increases one’s ability to hear which has numerous benefits including: enhancing communication, improving relationships, and strengthening overall health! 

Contact us today to schedule an appointment.

Acknowledging the Reality of Hearing Loss 

Acknowledging the Reality of Hearing Loss

There are various misconceptions about hearing loss that can make it challenging to acknowledge one’s experience. People often think that hearing loss only impacts older adults, is not a serious health issue, and one that can be easily fixed by just speaking louder. These common ideas about hearing loss can cause you to delay accepting the reality that you may be experiencing impaired hearing.

Hearing loss is actually a common chronic health issue that nearly 1 in 8 people navigate. People of all ages are impacted by this medical condition which cannot be reversed. Fortunately, there are effective ways that hearing loss is treated so it is imperative to identify and address symptoms that you recognize.

Hearing Loss Symptoms 

There are various factors that can contribute to the development of hearing loss including:

  • Exiting medical conditions: such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, stroke, and obesity can increase the risk of impaired hearing.
  • Genetic history: one’s family history of hearing loss is important because people can inherit specific genes that can affect the auditory system.
  • Environmental exposure to loud noise: which we can absorb at concerts, job sites, arenas etc. can damage the hair cells in the inner ear which help the brain process sound.

These factors, often gradually, restrict the sound that a person can absorb and process; reducing one’s ability to hear effectively. This creates various symptoms including:

  • Tinnitus which refers to a buzzing, ringing, or clicking like noise in one or both ears
  • Difficulty following entire conversations as sounds are muffled
  • Inability to distinguish individual words
  • Better hearing in one ear
  • Frequently asking others to repeat themselves, speak louder, and/or slower
  • Struggling to hear in environments with background noise
  • Regularly increasing the volume on electronic devices (TV, phone, speaker etc.)

These symptoms can be experienced mildly to severely, depending on the degree of hearing loss. This can disrupt and significantly impact your capacity to manage daily activities and responsibilities.

Impact of Hearing Loss 

Hearing loss is a chronic medical condition that if left untreated, can worsen and have major effects including:

  • Straining Communication: we engage in conversations daily and struggling to hear during them can lead to miscommunication, missing information, and an overall unpleasant experience for everyone involved. Conversations become difficult and exhausting as you overextend yourself in trying to hear.
  • Social Withdrawal: engaging with others can start to feel like more work than pleasure which can cause you to avoid social gatherings, events, and activities. This means spending less time with family and friends as well as missing out on important moments. Social withdrawal can create distance and tension in relationships and deepen isolation.
  • Decline of Overall Health: strained communication and social withdrawal can take a toll on your mental and emotional health. It can contribute to feelings of depression, anxiety, stress, and loneliness. Additionally, hearing loss can impact physical health because it puts you at a higher risk of personal injury as well as cognitive decline.

These multifaceted effects of hearing loss can be really challenging to navigate. It is critical to be aware and proactive about your hearing health because early detection and intervention can support your transition to a healthier life.

Seeking Treatment 

The most common treatment for hearing loss is hearing aids, which are small electronic devices that are worn in or behind the ear. Hearing aids have three main components: a microphone, amplifier, and speaker which are designed to absorb, strengthen, and process sound. This results in an increased ability to hear which can drastically improve your quality of life by enhancing communication, boosting confidence, and allowing you to fully participate in activities. Being able to comfortably navigate environments and hear more thoroughly supports your health and general wellness!

The first step in seeking treatment is to schedule an appointment with a hearing healthcare specialist to have your hearing examined. Hearing tests are a noninvasive and relatively quick way to measure your hearing ability in both ears, establish any impairment, the degree, and specific type of hearing loss you may be experiencing. Contact us today to schedule an appointment for a hearing test and consultation.