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Most forms of hearing loss happen gradually. The effects could be creeping up on you, and you might not even realize it. Here's what you need to know.
2019-10-16

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The Warning Signs of Hearing Loss

Most cases of acquired hearing loss are gradual, and many don't pick up on the signs until their lives are deeply affected. Here are the warning signs of hearing loss, and why you shouldn't ignore them.

When it comes to hearing loss, it’s easy to assume that people either have it at birth, or develop it in old age. However, hearing loss doesn’t just happen to infants and seniors — it can occur at any age, and the warning signs usually appear years before the heavy symptoms. Here’s a quick overview of hearing loss, what to look for, and what you need to know about treatment and prevention.

Hearing Loss: An Overview

Hearing loss can come in multiple forms, caused by various problems with the ears and nerves within them. There are four general types of hearing loss, including:

  • Sensorineural hearing loss (caused by damage to the inner ear)
  • Conductive hearing loss (results from diseases or disorders that interrupt the sound transmission from the outer and/or middle ear into the inner ear)
  • Mixed hearing loss (a mix of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss)
  • Auditory nerve hearing loss (technically a type of sensorineural hearing loss)

Sensorineural hearing loss makes up 90% of hearing loss cases and is the most common form of hearing loss. It occurs when the cochlea begins to degrade, leading to gradual hearing loss over time. The tiny hair cells in the cochlea pick up sound and determine the volume and frequency of these sounds before passing them to the brain. Over time, these hair cells begin to wear down, leading to sensorineural hearing loss. Noise exposure and other loud sounds can speed up this process.

Early Warning Signs of Hearing Loss

The symptoms of hearing loss can be easy to dismiss, especially when it’s easy to blame stress, fatigue, or other factors if you have trouble hearing. Sensorineural hearing loss happens gradually, so you might not realize your hearing is affected. It can manifest in subtle ways, making you think that the problem lies elsewhere.

However, there are some specific signs of hearing loss you may encounter in your day-to-day life:

  • Feeling physically and mentally exhausted after a long day of listening to people talk.
  • Feeling lost in conversations, especially in group situations.
  • Frequently asking people to repeat themselves.
  • Turning up your music or television loud enough that others comment on it.
  • Avoiding parties, get-togethers with friends, and noisy restaurants.
  • Having trouble understanding certain people’s voices, like women or children.
  • Frequently mishearing certain words as others.
  • Being easily irritated, stressed, or overwhelmed by noises, voices, or loud sounds.

If you regularly experience these symptoms, it might be a sign that your hearing has been affected. It’s important that you get your hearing tested as soon as possible. If you do have hearing loss, getting the issue diagnosed and treated can improve your quality of life, career, and relationships.

Causes of Hearing Loss

Sensorineural hearing loss is primarily caused by noise exposure. This involves any prolonged exposure to loud, grating, or intense noise. These noises can include music, engines, power tools, and other sources of loud sound. The most common sources of noise exposure come from:

  • Loud hobbies. If you enjoy attending concerts, festivals, car shows, gun ranges, sports games, and other loud events, you’re more likely to suffer from noise exposure.
  • Noisy work conditions. Musicians, construction workers, pilots, and other workers in loud conditions are more susceptible to noise exposure. That’s why it’s vital for people working in loud conditions to wear hearing protection.
  • Living in a loud city. If you live in a loud city with heavy traffic and high populations, noise exposure is a risk. You cannot escape the sound, even when you’re asleep or relaxing in your home. Your risk is heightened if you take loud forms of public transport, like subways. It’s recommended that people living in dense cities wear earplugs or noise-canceling headphones when they can.

Prevention & Protection

Prevention and protection are the only ways to truly avoid hearing loss. Even if your hearing is already affected, taking measures to protect what’s left can prevent it from worsening. Preventative measures include:

  • Wearing earplugs. Going to a show? Taking the subway? Heading to work? Put on some noise-canceling headphones, or use your earplugs.
  • Take rests. If you’ve had a noisy day, settle down and enjoy the quiet afterwards. Your ears need rest.
  • Turn down your music. Loud music is becoming a serious noise exposure risk. Turn down the volume a bit, and limit your time using headphones or earbuds.
  • Turn off the television. If you’re not actively watching it, try to eliminate this source of background noise.
  • Limit your time at clubs, concerts, and parties. Depending on the noise level, you shouldn’t spend very long at noisy events. Try not to stay more than a few hours.
  • Get your hearing tested often. You should visit an audiologist every few years for a hearing test. If you’re in-between visits or want to test your hearing now, try the online Signia hearing test for a general idea of your hearing ability. Then, visit a professional for a full hearing evaluation.

Hearing Loss Treatments

Hearing loss treatments have come a long way over the past two decades, and they’re constantly being improved. Hearing aids are the most common form of treatment. While hearing aids don’t replace your hearing, they do make it easier to hear.

Hearing aid technology has improved a lot, and many models are smaller and more refined than ever. Functionality has been boosted, with certain models offering features like Own Voice Processing and Bluetooth® connectivity. Hearing aids can also help if you have tinnitus, as many devices come with tinnitus therapies installed.

If your hearing loss is mild, you might be tempted to change your lifestyle to “cope” with it. However, the earlier you start to wear hearing aids to treat your hearing loss, the better your quality of life and well-being are likely to be. It is not a good idea to put off treatment until your hearing loss worsens when you can continue to enjoy the lifestyle you had previously, thanks to modern hearing aids.

Why not start your journey to better hearing today? Begin by finding a qualified hearing care professional nearby.