"Blindness cuts us off from things, but deafness cuts us off from people" -Helen Keller
Hearing loss affects around 20 percent of Americans, yet few of the 48 million of us living with some form of hearing loss are ready to admit it. With a variety of causes, severity and treatment options, hearing loss is one of the most common treatable disabilities in this country.
How do you hear?
Before you can begin to talk about losing your hearing, it is important to understand how hearing happens. Sound waves travel through the air, are funneled down the outer ear to your ear drum or tympanic membrane. Vibrations in the membrane activate a series of three bones of the middle ear called the ossicles. These bones, named for their appearance, are called the incus (anvil), malleus (hammer) and stapes (stirrup). As these bones vibrate in your fluid-filled middle ear, they stimulate movement of millions of hair cells inside of the snail-shaped inner ear called the cochlea. These hair cells continue vibrating, carrying electrical signals to the auditory nerve where the brain interprets them as sound.
What is the clinical definition of hearing loss?
While it is easy to say that hearing loss is not being able to hear as well as you once did, hearing loss is generally classified in severity by results on a comprehensive hearing examination. Hearing loss is defined by the intensity of sound at which you can no longer hear, or decibel level.
What are the different types of hearing loss?
There are three basic types of hearing loss.
1. Auditory processing disorders are disruptions to the way the brain receives electrical signals from the ears. As a result, someone is capable of hearing speech, but cannot process them into language.
2. Conductive hearing losses generally happen when there is a problem passing sound to the inner ear. This disruption can happen in the outer ear due to too much earwax or in the middle ear due to fluid build up, or abnormal bone growth.
3. Sensorineural hearing loss happens when there is damage to the inner ear, also called the cochlea, or to the auditory nerve.
What causes hearing loss?
While each type of hearing loss has a variety of causes, sensorineural hearing loss is most common and most responsive to hearing aids. One in three people over the age of 65 has a hearing loss which shows that hearing loss can happen as the result of normal aging. Environmental factors can also contribute to sensorineural hearing loss. Exposure to persistent, loud noises can temporarily or permanently damage hair cells in the inner ear. Taking certain medications or being exposed to certain chemicals can also cause sensorineural hearing loss in some people.