As you get older, you may notice changes in your vision, hearing, and movement. Time tends to wear on your body, and you shouldn’t be surprised if things don’t work quite as well at 65 as they did at 25. Hearing loss is a common occurrence in older adults, but that doesn’t necessarily make it natural.
Sudden hearing loss is never natural and certain causes of hearing loss are well within your ability to control. Keep reading to learn more about the different hearing loss types and to learn about the most common hearing loss causes.
Understanding the Different Hearing Loss Types
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), more than 37 million Americans have a significant degree of hearing loss. Most cases of sudden hearing loss are easy to link to a specific cause, but other causes of hearing loss are more difficult to determine.
Here is an overview of the most common hearing loss types:
- Hereditary hearing loss
- Age-related hearing loss
- Noise-induced hearing loss
- Illness-related hearing loss
- Unilateral hearing loss
Hereditary or inherited hearing loss can be related to any of more than 400 genetic syndromes including Waardenburg syndrome, Usher syndrome, and Stickler syndrome. Some of these are congenital or present at birth while others develop over time. Age-related hearing loss is another type that develops over time and it is also known as presbycusis. This type of hearing loss is typically permanent and results from changes in the inner ear that occur with age.
Noise-induced hearing loss occurs with prolonged exposure to loud noise. It often affects construction workers, though it can also happen if you listen to loud music or work in a noisy office environment. Illness-related hearing loss is triggered by a specific illness or disorder. Some of the diseases that cause hearing loss include otosclerosis and Meniere’s disease. Unilateral hearing loss is also known as single-sided deafness and occurs in just one ear, often resulting from head trauma or noise exposure.
Signs and Symptoms of Hearing Loss
Different types of hearing loss present in different ways, but many symptoms overlap. In order to diagnose hearing loss, your doctor may ask for a history of symptoms in addition to completing a physical exam and hearing test.
Here are some of the most common signs of hearing loss:
- Trouble understanding everyday conversation
- Having to frequently turn up the volume on things
- Asking others to repeat themselves over and over
- Avoiding social situations you once enjoyed
- Having difficulty understanding people on the phone
- Missing important information in work or social situations
- Trouble understanding words against background noise
The sooner you notice symptoms of hearing loss and speak to your doctor, the sooner you can start treatment. It is particularly important to talk to your doctor if your hearing loss is interfering with your daily life or if you experience sudden hearing loss.
The Top 8 Causes of Hearing Loss
Hearing loss is often caused by damage to the physical structure or the nerves in the inner ear. Factors that increase your risk for hearing loss include age, exposure to loud noise, heredity, certain medications, and some illnesses.
Here are the top 8 causes of hearing loss:
- Earwax blocking the ear canal
- Prolonged exposure to loud noise
- Advanced age (presbycusis)
- Certain medications (known as ototoxic drugs)
- Injury or trauma to the head
- Genetic or hereditary factors
- Some diseases (like Meniere’s disease or otosclerosis)
- Tumor in the acoustic nerve
Hearing loss is not something you should ignore, even if it is very mild. Many causes of hearing loss worsen over time, so early action is the best way to protect yourself against permanent damage to your hearing. Talk to your doctor about your symptoms to determine your treatment options.
Treatment Options for Hearing Loss
Treatment for hearing loss varies depending on the type and severity of the loss. Your doctor will need to perform tests to determine the specific type of hearing loss you have and, if possible, to identify the underlying cause and choose the best treatment. It’s a good idea to write down all of your symptoms and, if possible, how long you’ve been experiencing them.
This will allow your doctor to track the progression of your hearing loss which is helpful in making a diagnosis.
Some of the most common treatments for hearing loss include the following:
- Removal of obstructions (such as compacted ear wax)
- Surgical procedures to correct abnormalities
- Hearing aid devices to improve hearing
- Cochlear implant (generally only for severe hearing loss)
Though you may not be able to completely prevent age-related hearing loss, there are certain things you can do to protect your hearing. Limiting your exposure to loud sounds and wearing earplugs or other ear protection is very important, as is avoiding recreational risks to your hearing such as noisy concerts. In addition to these things, you should also have your hearing tested once a year or more for safety.