Hearing Loss – A Wide Overview
Hearing is without a doubt an important and essential part of our lives. It allows us to comfortably interact with our loved ones, and appreciate the sounds around us, be it music or the environment. What’s unfortunate is that hearing impairment might suddenly decrease their ability to enjoy and appreciate the sounds around them.
In this blog article, we will attempt to give a wide overview of hearing loss and help you better understand the intricacies of hearing and hearing loss.
What causes hearing loss?
Although we may not see it, our hearing devices accumulate a lot of debris as we use them. Regular cleaning is required as electronic devices needs to be kept clean and dry to work efficiently. Living in Singapore, our hot and humid weather makes us prone to the secretion of sweat and natural oils. As if that wasn’t enough, the natural production of earwax can also build up over time. The build-up of such debris on the hearing aid is not only unhygienic but also interferes with the way the hearing aid amplifies sounds.
This is why consistent cleaning is important. It keeps both the outer ear and the ear canal clean and free of any possibility of infection. It also allows our hearing aids to work in optimum conditions for a longer period, allowing us to enjoy the benefits of participating in conversations and maintaining an active social life
How Insufficient Cleaning Can Affect Our Hearing
Most hearing loss happen gradually, especially when one ages and deficiency in hearing ability accumulates over many years. This process could be accelerated from prolonged exposure to loud noises, say for a person who works at the construction sector for a living, or it could be someone who listens to music on their headphones for extended periods of time everyday. Hearing loss from old age could also be due to something as simple as the buildup of earwax in their ears, or the deterioration of organs involved in hearing.
Certain diseases or infections have also been known to lead to hearing deficiencies. For example, an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system attacks its own cells, causing them to die is one of the possibilities. In the case of hearing loss, the cells involved in facilitating the person’s hearing ability gets killed off, resulting in hearing loss. This process could be triggered or hastened by certain treatments or drugs, in particular those for treating cancer. Chemotherapy helps to kill off cancer cells but if the site of treatment is close to the ear, cells involved in hearing receive collateral damage and their functionality is impaired.
Some hearing loss may occur spontaneously, such as due to a physical head injury, damaging the inner ear or nerves involved in hearing. Some hearing loss occur even at birth, and according to a study in 2017, an estimated 1.33 babies in 1000 are affected in developed countries, and an estimated 19 babies in 1000 are affected in developing countries that do not have properly established neonatal hearing screening programs.
The best way to protect our ears and prevent hearing loss is to minimize or avoid long-term exposure to loud sounds. If one’s work demands such exposure, one must take care to wear hearing protection properly, else it could lead to eventual deafness.
Different types of hearing loss
There are many types of hearing aids that are suitable for different groups of people. The hearing aid you use may depend on the type and severity of your hearing loss, and your lifestyle. When buying a hearing aid, your audiologist provides some cleaning tools that can help you keep your device in good shape. These tools often include a soft-bristle brush, a wax pick or loop and a dry cloth for wiping. Some audiologists may also provide silica gel to store your aids with to keep them dry.
Sound enters the ear first through the outer ear, then through the ear canal. It then reaches the tympanic membrane, also known as the eardrum, and gets processed by hair cells in the middle and inner ear through complex functions, and a signal is sent via auditory nerves to the brain to be recognized and we interpret this as hearing sounds.
There are 3 established types of hearing loss – Conductive, Sensorineural and Mixed.
Conductive hearing loss is when sound has difficulty passing through the ear canal or reaching the middle ear. This could be due to something as simple as a buildup of earwax in the ear canal, or something more serious like an ear infection which causes a fluid buildup, blocking out incoming sound waves. This results in an overall lower amount of sound waves being picked up by the ear.
Sensorineural hearing loss is when the auditory nerves inside your ear are damaged, and their ability to transmit sound signals to your brain is hindered. As described in an earlier section, this could be due to deterioration from old age or from certain treatments and drugs.
Mixed hearing loss is simply a combination of both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss. The patient may have varying severities of the 2 types of hearing losses.
There are also acute hearing loss and chronic hearing loss, with the former happening suddenly such as due to trauma, and the latter referring to hearing loss that accumulates over a long period of time.
Consequences of hearing loss
There are many closely associated consequences of hearing loss that scientists have studied and found over the years.
Someone who has hearing loss may experience this from time to time, depending on the severity of the hearing loss. Not being able to hear and pick up what others are saying, they have to ask others to repeat themselves several times which is not socially appealing. Or worse – people may choose to speak less to them because it becomes harder to have an engaging and meaningful conversation. The end result is the person with hearing loss has less people to speak to and is at a higher risk of social isolation.
As humans, we crave social interactions, so being deprived of that need is not a good outlook.