Straight, No Chaser: Let’s Discuss Hearing Loss

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As I muse, I wonder why we don’t take better care of our eyes and ears. Those cotton swabs and other things we place in our ears really are reckless acts. Then there’s the noise. If you think about it, it shouldn’t surprise you to hear that hearing loss is the third most common ailment. In fact, “pump up the volume” could be the motto for a period of our lives lasting about 20 years. Let’s review causes, how you might know you’re suffering from hearing loss and what you can do about it. Joining the conversation is my friend and colleague Greg Keeney, audiologist and owner of Affordable Hearing Aids in Texas.

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There are two main types of hearing loss. The first is called conductive hearing loss. There’s a problem transmitting sound because something is preventing the ear bones from relaying sound or the eardrum from vibrating in response. This can be due to several considerations.

  • An ear infection can produce fluid in the ear, interfering with the process.
  • An ear infections can scar the eardrum.
  • Wax buildup or a foreign body in the ear can block sound transmission.
  • Infections, cotton swabs, increased pressure from scuba diving or other items can rupture the eardrum.

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Another type of hearing loss (and by far the most common type) is called sensorineural hearing loss. It is due to damage to the nerves that detect sound, and it is more likely to be irreversible. There are multiple causes of this condition as well.

  • Age
  • The loud noise we are exposed to at work and play (concerts, sporting events, fireworks, gun shots, etc.)
  • Medications (certain diuretics, chemotherapy regimens, antibiotic classes known as aminoglycosides and large doses of aspirin)
  • Infections (measles, meningitis, mumps, scarlet fever)
  • Medical conditions (e.g., acoustic neuroma, Meniere’s disease)

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Unfortunately, hearing deficits can also be present at birth due to genetic conditions, birth defects, and infections transmitted from mother to baby (such as herpes, rubella and toxoplasmosis).

Symptoms are pretty straightforward. You’ll know it when you don’t hear it. There are some additional considerations that suggest may be developing hearing loss.

  • In those instances when your nerves are damaged and conducting sound erratically, certain sounds may seem excessively loud.
  • Your relative inability to hear will result in difficulty following conversations or distinguishing sounds when in noisy areas or if background noise is present.
  • Voices may sounds slurred, muffled or mumbled, and women’s voices will be harder to understand than men’s.
  • An interesting thing about your ears is that they aren’t just for hearing; they’re also your balance centers. It is common to see those suffering from ear damage also suffering from disturbances in balance.

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Check tomorrow’s post for tips on how to prevent and treat hearing loss as well as a discussion of hearing aid options.

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