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According to the Mayo Clinic, it’s estimated that nearly half of Americans over the age of 65 have hearing loss. Because aging itself plays a large role in the development of troubled hearing, it’s recommended that people over the age of 50 schedule a hearing test every three years.
For many reasons, including lack of access to care, not only do most folks rarely have their hearing tested, but a majority of people with hearing loss do not seek immediate treatment. Only sixteen percent of adults over 20 who have hearing loss wear hearing aids and only thirty percent of people over 70 who would benefit from hearing aids have tried them.
Perhaps one reason why so many cases of hearing loss go untreated and even undiagnosed are the subtle symptoms that indicate your hearing health has changed.
Types of hearing loss
There are two types of hearing loss: conductive and sensorineural. In cases of conductive hearing loss, an obstruction prevents sound from reaching the inner ear. This is often wax buildup, but can also be a more complex problem of bony growths or tumors. In most cases, after medical intervention, previous levels of hearing are restored.
The second type of hearing loss has a less optimistic road to recovery. Sensorineural hearing loss occurs because of damage to the nerves and tissues of the inner ear. Typically, it is the sensitive cells of the inner ear that are lost or begin to decay, either because of the aging process itself or in the event of exposure to excessive noise. Sensorineural hearing loss is incurable, but it is highly treatable.
What causes acquired hearing loss?
Both noise and age can damage the cells of the inner ear, which are non-regenerative and don’t repair themselves or produce new ones. They are integral to the hearing process because they collect the noise from the world around you and translate it into sound information. As sound information, or electrical signals, they are then sent to the brain via the auditory nerve. In our brain’s processing centers, the sound information becomes what we think of as hearing.
When the tiny cells of the inner ear are damaged or lost, we are less able to collect all the information from the world around us. We tend to lose frequencies at first, as our inner ear cells decline, and so less information is sent to the brain. Our brain has fewer pieces of the puzzle to complete the sound picture, and our experience is that hearing becomes difficult.
Can I self-diagnose my hearing loss?
Many people think that hearing loss will be obvious to them because the world will have lowered in volume. That’s not exactly the case. Instead, because we lose certain frequencies rather than an overall lessening of volume, the first indicators of hearing loss have to do with speech clarity. You may be asking people to repeat themselves or speak up in conversation. Or, you might rely upon closed captioning to catch the dialogue on your favorite television shows.
All of this makes self-diagnosis of hearing loss particularly difficult. In fact, it is our friends and family who often notice changes in our behavior before we can pinpoint the effects of early hearing loss.
The impact of unacknowledged hearing loss
We are lucky if our friends and family do highlight changes to our behaviors. An insidious piece of hearing loss is that it is a long and subtle process, which means we can adapt to our ‘new normal’ without it being a conscious process.
We might not know why we avoid telephone calls, which are notoriously difficult for people with hearing loss. Or want to leave loud parties early without engaging, a sound environment that is particularly tricky to listen in. We might even be avoiding standing social engagements because conversation becomes so frustrating.
By not acknowledging hearing loss, we leave ourselves open to higher rates of isolation and depression. Research even links hearing loss strongly with the onset of dementia, and one of dementia’s modifiable risk factors we can take action towards is in seeking diagnosis and treatment.
Hearing aids as intervention
For many decades, hearing aids and cochlear implants have served as proven and successful treatments for hearing loss. For people who do choose to intervene, the vast majority are highly satisfied with their investment and would recommend it to a friend.
Schedule a hearing consultation today
Don’t wait any longer to find out if you would benefit from hearing loss treatment. Schedule a hearing consultation with our highly trained team today.