Hearing loss is defined as being unable to hear sounds in one or both ears, whether partially or completely. It is a common ageing problem may also occur to younger people, usually from different causes, ranging from exposure to loud noises to diseases and hereditary. Hearing loss is an increasing problem all over the world. Loss of hearing may affect the quality of life.
To understand hearing loss, it is helpful to learn how sound waves are transmitted from the ear to the brain. When sound waves reach the structures inside the ear, the vibrations produced by the sound waves are transformed into nerve signals that the brain will eventually recognize as sound. The ear has three main regions, the outer ear, middle ear, and inner ear. It is in the outer ear where sound waves pass and cause vibrations at the eardrum. The vibrations are amplified as they are transmitted to the inner ear by the eardrum and the three tiny bones found in the middle ear, namely the hammer, anvil and stirrup. Inside the inner ear, the vibrations pass through the fluid in the cochlea, a structure that contains nerve cells where tiny hairs are attached. These tiny hairs will help convert sound vibrations into electrical signals that will eventually be transmitted to the brain.
Types of Hearing Loss
There are two different types of hearing loss, differing in the particular area of the ear that it affects. In some cases, it can be a combination of both types.
- Conductive Hearing Loss (CHL)
- Sound is not conducted efficiently from the outer ear canal to the eardrum and the three tiny bones in the middle ear
- Typically results to decline in sound level
- Can be treated
- Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SNHL)
- Damaged inner ear or nerve pathway from inner ear to the brain
- Commonly causes permanent hearing loss
Causes of Hearing Loss
The causes of hearing loss will also depend on the particular area affected. Some of the most common causes of hearing loss include:
- Conductive Hearing Loss
- Ear infection (otitis media)
- Ear canal infection (external otitis)
- Presence of fluid in the middle ear, e.g. from colds
- Impacted earwax
- Presence of foreign body
- Swimmer’s ear
- Benign tumours
- Sensorineural Hearing Loss
- Exposure to loud noise
- Certain drugs
- Hereditary hearing loss
- Head trauma
- Skull fractures
- Increased pressure difference between inside and outside the ear
Symptoms of Hearing Loss
It may sometimes be difficult to determine if one is experiencing hearing loss. The following are the common symptoms of hearing loss:
- Difficulty understanding words in noisy areas or when there is background noise
- Difficulty hearing conversations when conversing with more than 2 persons
- Hearing sounds too loud
- Having a hard time hearing women’s voices than men’s voices
- Mumbled or slurred-sounding sounds
- Unusually need for increase television volumes
- Buzzing sound in the ears
- Feeling dizzy
Treatment for Hearing Loss
Treatment for hearing loss will be tailored according to underlying cause. Minor hearing loss can be effectively managed at home with sufficient home care. If cause is unknown, schedule a visit to the doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment.
- In cases of impactedearwax, follow first aid for earwax blockage.
- In cases of allergies, treat accordingly. Follow protocol for allergies to avoid complications.
- If foreign objects are present, do not attempt to remove the object unless it is easy to get.
- In some cases, hearing aids may be necessary to enhance hearing. In other cases, implants may be necessary.
Although hearing loss is not a medical emergency, it should be immediately treated at first signs to avoid permanent or even complete hearing loss. Enrol in First Aid Courses to learn more about ear problems and hearing loss.
Causes of Hearing Loss (2011). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved September 17, 2013, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/hearing-loss/DS00172/DSECTION=causes