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What is hearing loss?

What is hearing loss?

Hearing loss is when your ability to hear is reduced. A hearing loss makes it more difficult for you to hear speech and other sounds.

The most common causes of hearing loss are noise and ageing. In most cases a hearing loss cannot be cured. Hearing loss is typically treated with hearing aids.

Causes of hearing loss

A hearing loss can be caused by many factors, but age and noise are the two most common causes.

Loss of hearing is a natural consequence of getting older. Our hearing ability worsens in our 30s and 40s and onwards and when we reach our 80s, more than half of us suffer from significant hearing loss. Age-related hearing loss is also called Presbyacusis.

Another common reason of hearing loss is exposure to noise. It can also be a consequence of living in a noisy world. This noise can come from our work or from voluntary exposure to noise, such as noisy motors or loud music at rock concerts, night clubs, discos and from stereos - with or without the use of headphones. The increasing use of portable MP3 players is increasing the effects of hearing loss.

Hearing loss can also occur as a result of other causes. It can be caused by:

  • Some diseases and infections
  • Certain syndromes
  • Medications and drugs
  • Damages to the ears
  • Injuries to the head
  • Malformation of the ear or blockage of the ear
  • Genetic factors
  • Tumors in the head
  • Alcohol and tobacco
  • Solvents
  • Cholesterol

Read more about the causes of hearing loss.

Types of hearing loss

A hearing loss can be sensorineural, conductive or mixed. A sensorineural hearing loss results from damage to the tiny hair cells in the inner ear. Age-related hearing loss also known as Presbyacusis is a type of sensorineural hearing loss and so is a noise-induced hearing loss, which is a permanent hearing loss caused by prolonged exposure to high levels of noise.

A conductive hearing loss is where the ears’ ability to conduct sound from the outer ear  through the middle ear into the inner ear is blocked or reduced.

If there are problems with conducting sound to the inner ear and the hair cells in the inner ear are damaged at the same time, it is called a mixed hearing loss. It is a combination of a conductive hearing loss and a sensorineural hearing loss.

A hearing loss can also be a bilateral hearing loss or a single-sided hearing loss.

You can also have a hearing loss in one ear. It is called unilateral hearing loss or single-sided deafness. A hearing loss in both ears is called a bilateral hearing loss.

A hearing loss can also occur suddenly from one day to the other. This is called a sudden hearing loss.

In some cases, a hearing loss can be hidden. This is called a hidden hearing loss. It is a type of hearing loss that cannot be measured by a common hearing test. You may have a hidden hearing loss if you experience problems with hearing in situations with background noise.

Symptoms of hearing loss

Most cases of hearing loss develop gradually so the symptoms are often difficult to recognize. If you experience some signs of hearing impairment, you should contact your family doctor or hearing health care professional and have your hearing tested. Read more about the symptoms of hearing loss.

How to test your hearing?

A hearing test comprises of a number of different examinations which, when taken together, can determine whether or not you suffer from hearing loss and to what extent. A hearing test is carried out by a hearing professional using professional equipment. But you can get an indication of how well you hear by taking our online hearing test.

Definition of hearing loss

Hearing loss is divided into categories. The most common categories of hearing loss classifications are mild, moderate, severe and profound hearing loss.  

If you have a mild hearing loss, the quietest sounds that you can hear with your better ear are between 25 and 40 dB. With a moderate hearing loss, the quietest sounds you can hear with your better ear are between 40 and 70 dB. If you have a severe hearing loss the quietest sounds you can hear with your ear are between 70 and 95 dB. And with a profound hearing loss the quietest sounds you can hear are 95 dB or higher. Read more about the definition of hearing loss.

Prevalence of hearing loss

Hearing loss is fairly widespread.

If you carried out a hearing test on a larger group of people, one-in-six would have a hearing loss of more than 25 dB, which is the definition of hearing impairment recognized by the World Health Organization, WHO. This means that around 16-17% of all adults have a hearing loss.

Numerous studies in Europe and USA have asked whether people have hearing loss. Around 10-11% of people asked answered that they believe they have a hearing loss. This is the same as between every ninth or tenth adult.

The difference between the two numbers is because it is not everybody with a hearing loss who is actually aware of it.

The older one becomes, the higher the likelihood that you have a hearing loss.

Prevention of hearing loss

Daily exposure to noise is directly related to the risk of hearing damage. We are exposed to loud noises daily. For example, when we use headphones, when we are in traffic, the gym, the cinema, stadiums, cafés and at work. If the noise level is too high, it is a good idea to use ear plugs. Read more about preventing hearing loss.

Consequences of hearing loss

Hearing loss can have a range of consequences. The implications differ from person to person, but most people with hearing impairment suffer some social, psychological and physical problems as a result of their hearing problems. Read more about the consequences of hearing loss.

Children and hearing loss

Children can also experience hearing loss. Hearing problems in smaller children are normally caused by genetic factors, physical abnormalities in the ear or it might be caused by certain diseases. In older children and especially teenagers, the hearing problems may often be a result of noise exposure. Read more about children and hearing loss.

Treatment of hearing loss

Hearing loss can be treated, but hearing cannot be restored. In most cases, hearing loss is treated with the use of hearing aids. Some are treated with different types of implants and surgery may cure some types of conductive hearing loss.

A sensorineural hearing loss is normally treated with hearing aids. A conductive hearing loss can often be treated with an operation or removal of the blockage of the ear, in certain cases hearing aids or implants might be needed. A sudden hearing loss must be treated instantly and the treatment often involves the use of steroids. If you experience a sudden hearing loss you should seek medical assistance as soon as possible.

 

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