Hearing loss affects people of all ages and is more common than you might think. According to Statistics Canada, it is the third most common health problem in Canada. Untreated hearing loss can affect your ability to understand speech and can negatively impact your social and emotional well-being. Those who experience hearing loss often report a decrease in quality of life.
The good news? Hearing loss is well-understood, and it is important to know you are not alone and have ample resources available. By seeking information here, you’ve taken a first step in getting the information and help you need.
If you suspect hearing loss, you've come to right place! Learn the common causes, symptoms and types of hearing loss so you know when to seek help for you and your loved ones.
Hearing loss causes
There are many causes of hearing loss. Some causes are beyond your control, and other causes may be preventable:
Hearing loss symptoms
Hearing loss can present itself at any time and in many ways. It can be gradual or acute, but the symptoms are generally similar regardless of the cause.
Here a few signs that indicate you may have hearing loss:
Types of hearing loss
Sensorineural hearing loss
The first and most common type of hearing loss is sensorineural hearing loss and it occurs when tiny hair cells within the inner ear (the cochlea) are damaged.
Sensorineural hearing loss is permanent, and in most cases, there are no medical or surgical treatment options. Hearing aids are the primary treatment for sensorineural hearing loss. In some situations, hearing aids are not beneficial for certain individuals with severe to profound sensorineural hearing loss. These people may benefit from cochlear implantation.
Sensorineural hearing loss is most commonly experienced as a sloping high-frequency hearing loss, typically associated with aging or noise exposure, and often both. High-frequency hearing loss may be difficult to notice because it occurs gradually over time. People with high-frequency sensorineural hearing loss often report they can hear people speaking, but not clearly and that they are mumbling. These individuals are candidates for hearing aids. A hearing care professional can help you decide which hearing aids are best suited for your hearing needs and lifestyle.
Conductive hearing loss
The second most common type of hearing loss is conductive hearing loss and is a result from a problem in the outer or middle ear that prevents sound waves from entering the inner ear properly.
Conductive hearing loss can be caused by several different things. It can be due to earwax (cerumen) blocking the ear canal or some type of foreign object lodged in the ear canal. A very common cause of conductive hearing loss is fluid occupying the middle ear space. Fluid behind the eardrum is common when people experience cold and sinus symptoms and presents as a “blocked” feeling. This type of conductive loss can be temporary or chronic. It is also common for many children and even some adults to experience ear infections (otitis media). Many times, a conductive hearing loss can be medically treated by a physician. We recommend a visit to your general physician or otolaryngologist (ENT).
Mixed hearing loss
The third most common type of hearing loss is mixed hearing loss. This type of hearing loss involves both sensorineural and conductive hearing loss components. Because mixed hearing loss can be more complicated to diagnose and treat, be sure to follow-up with your physician, otolaryngologist (ENT) or hearing care professional. Treatment options for mixed hearing loss will depend on whether the loss is more sensorineural or conductive in nature.
Degree of hearing loss
Hearing care professionals use the terms normal, mild, moderate, severe and profound to characterize the degree of hearing loss. Hearing loss is measured in decibels (dB), and these terms refer to an average of the decibel level of hearing loss present:
Untreated hearing loss makes it difficult to follow conversations and often leads to reduced contact with family, friends and colleagues, which can further turn into feelings of isolation and depression. Hearing is central to your health and quality of life. According to Hear-it AISBL, people with untreated hearing loss often experience a decreased quality of life.
Myths and misconceptions about hearing loss
People who have no experience with hearing aids tend to have all sorts of misconceptions about them. Here are some of the most common:
Noise-induced hearing loss
Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is caused by damage to the hair cells that are found in your inner ear. Hair cells are tiny sensory cells that convert the sounds we hear (sound energy) into electrical signals that travel to the brain. Once they are damaged, these hair cells cannot grow back, causing permanent hearing loss.
Harmful sounds that can damage your hearing include, but are not limited to:
If you work in a hazardous noise environment, speak with health and safety personnel about noise exposure risk.
It is possible to prevent some causes of hearing loss. There are several precautions you can take to protect your hearing. If you work in a noisy place or participate in a noisy pastime and are concerned about your hearing, or if you suspect you may already have hearing loss, be sure to follow-up with a local hearing loss clinic near you to get your hearing tested.