Causes, Prevention And Treatment Options
In an effort to improve existing hearing impairment, it's important to understand how hearing loss is caused, and steps one can take to prevent further damage to these sensitive organs. According to the National Institute of Health, significant hearing loss occurs in 12% of Americans and can result from a variety of reasons and in varying degrees of severity. While some individuals are born with a level of hearing impairment, there are copious triggers that we are exposed to on a daily basis which can cause different levels of deafness over time. Understanding how to limit our exposure to these harmful elements can prevent the inevitable assault on the nerve endings within the ear, and thus prevent temporary or even permanent damage from occurring.
Types of Hearing Impairment
Prevention and treatment vary, depending on the type of hearing loss experienced. There are three main types of hearing loss, which can all be contracted over time, or occur congenitally: Conductive Hearing Loss, Sensorineural Hearing Loss, and Mixed Hearing Loss.
Conductive Hearing Loss
Conductive Hearing Loss is related to damage within the ear canal, the tympanic membrane (eardrum), or the middle ear and is considered highly treatable. This occurs when sound is not able to pass correctly through the outer ear, or the tiny bones within the middle ear (ossicles) and thus cannot be registered as sound by the brain.
Causes of Conductive Hearing Loss:
- Fluid buildup (often from colds)
- Malformation of the outer ear, ear canal or middle ear
- Ear Infection
- Foreign objects within the ear
- Perforated eardrum
- Poor function of the Eustachian tube (often due to allergies or tumors)
- Benign tumors
- Impacted earwax
Sensorineural Hearing Loss
When hearing impairment stems from problems within the inner ear, this is considered Sensorineural Hearing loss and is often due to nerve-related damage. Treatment options for Sensorineural Hearing Loss depend on the cause and can vary in success rate. Injuries resulting from noise-related trauma, an explosion for example, have shown to be responsive to medical therapy like coticosteroids which help to relieve swelling and inflammation of the cochlea hair cells. Success rates vary, however, when attempting surgical treatment for more extreme cases caused by trauma to the head, or abrupt pressure changes which may cause the inner ear to rupture.
Causes of Sensorineural Hearing Loss:
- Exposure to loud noise (either suddenly or repeated exposure to loud noises such as firearms, power tools, or loud music)
- Head trauma
- Genetically inherited impairment (abnormalities or syndromes passed down through family)
- Incorrect formation of the inner ear
- Meniere's Disease
- Tumors on the auditory nerve
- Ototoxic drugs (drugs which are used to treat serious illnesses yet can damage the ear)
Mixed Hearing Loss
The name says it all; Mixed Hearing Loss occurs when there is damage to both the inner and outer ear and an individual experiences symptoms of both Conductive and Sensorineural impairment. Since symptoms can span the full spectrum, causes vary to the same degree. When seeking treatment, medical professionals recommend attending to the Conductive Hearing Loss first as and attempts to repair inner ear damage may be moot if damage to the outer ear prevents sound from passing through successfully.
While we can't control the genetic hand we are dealt (yet) there are handful of non-heredity-based causes of hearing loss that we are able to avoid. Noise-induced hearing loss is highly preventable and what most people don't understand is that minimum exposure can cause lasting effects.
Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
Overexposure to loud noise is one of the leading causes of hearing impairment. When the tiny hairs within the ear are exposed to loud noise they can become damaged, and unfortunately once the damage is done, it cannot be reversed. The assault to the nerves experienced through noise exposure can stem from repeated exposure or sudden, and exceptionally loud, sounds.
Avoiding early onset of hearing loss can bode well for preventing further deterioration as people age. It's no secret that today's youth is often seen (and heard) blasting music through ear buds at higher-than-necessary volumes. Studies show that increase in hearing loss in adolescents can be tied to the use (and abuse) of earbuds among teens.1 Rule of thumb is that if others can hear the music escaping from your earbuds, the volume is too loud and damage to the nerves within the ear is underway. Damage caused early on in life makes people that much more susceptible to hearing impairment later in life.
So how loud is too loud?
There are a handful of signs to look out for when exposed to loud noises to determine the potential for incurred hearing loss. When exposed to a loud noise, if you experience ringing in the ears (an indication that hair cells have been damaged) or it takes hours for your hearing ability to reach a normal level again then your ears are letting you know the volume exceeds a safe decibel-level. Additionally, if the sound hurts your ears, or you feel the need to raise your voice for someone nearby to hear you, then you know it's too loud and your at risk for developing hearing damage.
Sometimes situations in which the volume is unsafe or excessive are unavoidable. Certain professions (like musician or construction worker) put people at risk on a daily basis. In these situations the best approach is to wear some form of protection; there are different types of ear plugs for varying situations that can help reduce the risk of hearing loss.
Certain drugs, both prescription and over the counter, have actually shown to cause damage to the ear and should be avoided when possible. Known as Ototoxic Drugs, these medications contain ingredients that have proved harmful to the nerves within the ear and often times the resulted hearing loss is accompanied by tinnitus. Recognizing which medications could cause potential harm can help you to avoid putting your self at unnecessary risk.
Examples of Ototoxic Drugs:
- Aspirin, and similar over the counter medications, when taken in high doses
- Antibiotics (such as gentamicin and others within the aminoglycoside family)
- Loop Diuretics (used to treat heart and kidney conditions)
- Some chemotherapy drugs (cisplatin and carboplatin)
How to Improve Hearing Loss
While not all forms of hearing impairment are 100% treatable, there are many options available to ease the inconvenience of the day-to-day. Once diagnosed, individuals can start to adjust their habits and environments to ensure that communication and daily routines remain as streamlined as possible.
For example, rearranging a space to ensure that you are sitting close to those you are holding conversations with, or limiting the amount of background noise emitted by TVs, air conditioners, etc. Since body language now plays a more important role, one should ensure that he/she is able to face the person with whom their speaking. Emphasizing the other person's face with proper lighting can also help with lip-reading and gaining further context through their facial expressions. Another example is to limit interactions to rooms with carpeted floors, as tiles and hard walls tend to echo the voices and it can be more difficult to process the sounds. These small steps can ease frustration as one struggles to accept that hearing impairment is now a reality.
Hearing Assistive Technology can also be an integral addition to the life of the hearing impaired. These systems can be used in conjunction with other treatment options to assist in separating out the sounds one wishes to hear. Examples include tactile or visual alarm systems, captions phone services, etc. The American Disabilities Act3 now requires that most public venues provide some form of Hearing Assistive Technology to ensure that the hearing disabled can successfully participate in society.
On a more basic level, keeping the ears free from foreign objects or earwax can help ensure that sound has a clearer pathway with which to pass through. To avoid perforating the eardrum, always seek help from a medical professional when attempting to remove an obvious blockage.
For less extreme cases, hearing aids are a common treatment option. Since choosing the right hearing aid can be a daunting task, it's best to research reviews of hearing aid brands before settling on a specific type. The science behind hearing aids is in the name; while they do not actually heal the nerve damage within the ear, they do amplify the sound to assist the ear in processing the information.
Conversely, cochlear implants, are a common form of treatment for more advanced situations of hearing loss. Often referred to as bionic ears2, cochlear implants act as a part of the ear itself and can help those who are profoundly deaf to understand and differentiate between conversation and other sounds within the environment.
The Hearing Loss Pill
Newer to the market, the Hearing Loss Pill provides users with a revolutionary approach to improve hearing. The science behind the pill allows for the undamaged hair cells within the ear to process greater sound information, thus compensating for the non functioning damaged cells. Here is further information about the how the Hearing Loss Pill works.
Q: Can I take the Hearing Loss Pill if I'm also using Hearing Aids?
A: Definitely! The Hearing Loss Pill is a combination of nutrients designed to help protect and optimize the undamaged nerves. There is no harm associated with combining the use of Hearing Aids with The Hearing Loss Pill.
Additional information can be found in our full list of Frequently Asked Questions.