What is hearing loss?

by Dr. Girish Anand M S

Posted on : Sep 30, 2021


Hearing loss is a condition where a person has a complete or limited hearing ability. It is also called hearing impairment.

There can be many factors that may cause or lead to hearing loss. Ageing and exposure to loud noises are two significant reasons that cause hearing impairment. This condition can also be genetic or a birth defect. Excessive collection of earwax, in your ears, can temporarily block or prevent your ears from proper hearing. This causes temporary hearing impairment.

What are the symptoms of hearing loss?

The following symptoms may indicate signs of partial or complete hearing loss:

  • Speech and other sounds seem muffled

  • Difficulty in comprehending words, especially in a crowded area.

  • Frequent request to speakers to be louder and enunciate the words.

  • Constant request to turn down the volume of the TV

  • Withdrawal from conversations and social gathering

What are the causes of hearing loss?

There are a number of factors that may induce hearing impairment in people:

  • Damaged inner ear. Our ears are more delicate than they seem. Constant exposure to sound over time can damage the sensory nerve cells in the inner ear. Since this type of hearing impairment is due to nerve damage, it is a permanent condition.

  • A gradual collection of earwax. Earwax can build up and get impacted in the ear causing blockage of the ear tunnel which prevents conduction of sound. This can be prevented with proper ear hygiene removal.

  • Ear infection and abnormal bone growths or tumors. Any ear infection, abnormal bone growth or tumors in the outer or middle ear can cause hearing impairment.

  • Ruptured Eardrum. Trauma to the eardrum, which converts sound energy into nerve impulses, can cause hearing impairment or even complete hearing loss.

What factors damage or lead to loss of conductive hairs and nerve cells in your inner ear?

  • Aging. As with most body parts, the structures of the ear also degenerate with time and age..

  • Loud noise. Loud sounds are very harmful to the cells of your inner ear. Both long-term exposure to loud sounds like the excessively high volume on headphones, as well as a sudden loud sound like an explosion, can damage hearing.

  • Occupational noises. People who work in very noisy environments like construction sites are more prone to ear damage.

  • Some medications. Certain drugs, such as antibiotics and anti-cancer drugs can damage the inner ear. High doses of painkillers, antimalarial drugs, or loop diuretics can cause temporary hearing loss.

  • Some illnesses. Diseases or illnesses that result in high fever, like meningitis, may damage the inner and middle ear.

What are the significant effects of hearing loss on quality of life?

Losing any of the senses will have a significant effect on your quality of life. Many people go through depression and anxiety because of hearing loss or impairment. Most people affected by hearing loss live with these difficulties for years before seeking treatment — or never seek it at all.

Many people with hearing impairment live solitary lives with incomplete social connections and relationships.

What are the tests to diagnose hearing loss?

  • Physical examination of the ears. ENT specialist use instruments like otoscope (helps to give a visual examination of the ear) and tympanometry (helps to examine the middle part of the ear through use of pressure).

  • Tuning fork tests. A metal instrument which is shaped like a prong in struck to create a sound. It is used to examine if the hearing loss in the outcome of any damage of the middle ear (including the eardrum) or the sensors or nerves of the ear.

  • Audiometry tests. The person is given to put on a pair of earphones through which certain sounds are administered to one ear at a time. These sound are given in the range of different levels to check the ear's grasping capacity.

What is the treatment of hearing loss?

The treatment of hearing loss may depend on the cause and severity of hearing loss. The treatments used are:

  • Removing wax blockage. Hearing impairment caused by earwax blockage can easily be fixed through a simple procedure of softening the wax with oil and then extracting it out. However, if ignored, can cause infections and serious problems.

  • Surgical procedures. Surgery is needed in case of any dislocated hearing bones or to mend the eardrum.

  • Hearing aids. In certain cases of damaged inner ear, a hearing aid is used as an amplifying device to magnify the sounds and voices reaching the ear.

  • Cochlear implants. A cochlear implant is advised in case of severe hearing loss.

Treatment is possible for a number of conditions that cause hearing impairment. People who receive treatment for hearing impairment can expect a better quality of life and improved functioning in their daily activities.

In case of permanent hearing impairment which can not be fixed by treatment, there are sign languages that exist in many countries around the world. Each of these languages is universally accepted by the hearing impaired community and their families in their own country. India too has its own sign language. This is known as or Indian Sign Language(ISL) which hearing-impaired people and their families can learn to connect. This can greatly narrow the gap between a permanently hearing impaired person and his family.

What steps can you take to prevent hearing loss?

  • If you work in a place with heavy noise, save your ears and use earmuffs that help to reduce the sound.

  • Again, if the place of your work has heavy noise, make sure to have regular hearing tests.

  • Avoid listening to loud music. Turn down the volume it will help you protect your ears.

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