Hearing Loss Symptoms

Is it hard to follow conversations around the table? Do you find yourself turning your phone up to the highest volume…and still missing some of what’s said?

Hearing loss can feel isolating. Worse, it can happen so slowly you don’t realize it right away, which is dangerous considering even slight hearing loss can affect your brain and cognitive function.

How common is hearing loss? By some estimates, hearing loss affects over 466 million people across the globe. An ailment that has many categories, causes, and treatments, hearing loss is far from monolithic–but it remains one of the most common and persistent health issues around the world. Remarkably, hearing loss is also largely preventable, leading health officials to invest heavily in education and awareness. The more you know about hearing loss, the better you can protect your own hearing.

Sounds flowing into ear towards the brain.

Hearing Loss Symptoms That Often Go Unnoticed

You might think that hearing loss is obvious…you simply can’t hear. But hearing loss can occur so slowly that the first symptoms go unnoticed or are shrugged off.

  • Words sound indistinct as if they are muffled
  • It’s harder to hear in crowds or when there is background noise
  • You find yourself turning up the volume
  • You’re avoiding the theater or movies because you can’t hear the softer dialog
  • You’ve withdrawn from social settings, especially larger groups or noisier venues
  • You’re tired all the time, and you’ve ruled out all the usual reasons
  • You tune out colleagues more often
  • You’re struggling with basic cognitive functions like memory

If you find yourself showing some of these early symptoms, give us a call to get your hearing tested.

Icons and brain simulating how sounds works with the brain

What Causes Hearing Loss?

In some cases, the root cause of hearing loss is relatively straightforward and easy to see. But for the majority of people, identifying a single explanation for hearing loss symptoms can be challenging. For example, various minor issues can interact to produce hearing loss and deafness in unexpected ways.

Some of the most common causes of hearing loss include:

Congenital issues:

Birth defects or congenital issues are the most common causes of hearing loss in younger patients, including infants and children. That said, some issues may not develop into a noticeable problem until later in life.

Physical obstruction:

Hearing relies on the passage of air vibrations through your outer ear to your middle ear and ear canal. If something obstructs your ear at any point along that pathway, hearing impairment can result. Hearing can usually be restored if the obstructions are removed.

Infection:

Your ears can be prone to both primary and secondary infections. Severe or chronic ear infections can cause damage to your hearing ability, in some cases resulting in hearing loss.

Noise damage:

Perhaps the most common cause of chronic hearing loss is damage to the ears due to overly loud noise. Sounds above an 85 dB threshold can cause slow, permanent degradation in your ability to hear.

Age:

In some cases, the primary cause of hearing loss might be age. However, it’s quite difficult to differentiate between age-related hearing loss and noise-induced hearing loss. In many cases, there is no functional difference.

Trauma:

There are various types of trauma that can cause hearing loss. In some cases that could be trauma to the ears. In other cases, traumatic brain injury (TMI) can cause short term or long term hearing loss.

Sensorineural and Other Types of Hearing Loss

Hearing loss is usually divided into two broad categories.

Conductive hearing loss:
This is a type of hearing loss caused by the formation of an obstruction somewhere along the hearing pathway. For example, the obstruction could be caused by an infection or a non-cancerous growth. In some cases, the obstruction could be something as simple as compacted earwax. In any case, the obstruction blocks sound waves from moving through your ear canal, effectively creating hearing loss.

Sensorineural hearing loss:
Human hearing depends on tiny hair cells in the ears called stereocilia. Normally, these hairs vibrate when exposed to sound waves and transmit that information to the brain. The brain, then, goes about the work of translating those vibrations into understandable sounds. When stereocilia are damaged in humans–usually by noise–they are unable to repair or rejuvenate themselves. This results in permanent, long-term damage to your hearing.

Sensorineural hearing loss has no known cure and is effectively permanent. Conductive hearing loss, however, often clears up when the underlying obstructions are removed. It’s not uncommon for both types of hearing loss to be present in some people.

How Is Hearing Loss Treated?

Even when they cannot be cured, most types of hearing loss can be treated. In the least severe cases, treatment might entail simple monitoring with regular hearing tests. On the other end of the spectrum, hearing aids can help treat significant hearing loss. 

Modern hearing aids are equipped with a vast array of specialized technologies. Some of these innovations, such as machine learning-enabled sound balancing, are designed to make sounds clearer and voices sharper. Other technologies augment the hearing-aid experience more holistically, helping to connect hearing aids to Bluetooth devices, counting steps, or even notifying contacts in case of certain emergencies.

Packing so much technology into a hearing aid might seem extravagant, at first. But each of these innovations helps to serve those with hearing impairments. Sound-balancing favors voices and facilitates communication. Bluetooth connectivity can help connect you to the outside world, keeping important social bonds intact. Every piece of hearing aid technology is designed to help you maintain your quality of life.

Why Is Treating Hearing Loss Important?

Hearing aids are a common form of treating hearing loss. That treatment is incredibly important, and for reasons that go well beyond your hearing. Generally speaking, prompt treatment of hearing loss can have the following benefits:

Successful treatment can slow the progression of hearing loss. For example, an individual wearing her hearing aids won’t have to turn the TV volume up so high–and this can prevent further, accelerated noise damage to the ears. There is also evidence that the part of your brain that processes sounds can atrophy if not used. Hearing aids help to re-engage your brain, because you can hear again.

Wearing your hearing aids can help keep you socially involved. This could mean you suffer less from social isolation, a common occurrence in those with hearing loss.

Treatment can lower your risks of developing depression, anxiety, dementia, and related conditions. Hearing loss and any resulting social isolation can often result in higher incidences of mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety. There is significant evidence that suggests untreated hearing loss can also increase your risk of dementia.

Hearing aids can help with tinnitus. Those with hearing loss may also often develop tinnitus, a condition in which you hear a ringing or buzzing in your ears. Treating hearing loss can often help diminish some tinnitus symptoms and many hearing aids have additional features to help with tinnitus.

The Future of Hearing Loss

Due to the rise in noise pollution and popularity and availability of personal-speaker technology, hearing loss has become a more pressing issue around the world. There’s no doubt that hearing impairments will continue to affect millions of new people every year.

Woman having her ears examined by a hearing expert.