What is hearing loss?
If a person loses hearing partially or completely, it is called hearing loss. It occurs gradually. Hearing loss that occurs with age is known as presbycusis.
One of the common hearing loss causes is constant exposure to loud noises. Although most types of hearing loss are irreversible, a doctor can improve the patient’s hearing.
Hearing loss symptoms
Some classic hearing loss symptoms are:
- Difficulty hearing people clearly in a noisy area.
- Frequently asking people to repeat themselves.
- Inability to hear properly while listening to music, watching television, or speaking on the telephone.
- Difficulty in conversing with others.
- Having to concentrate to hear others.
Parts of the human ear
To better understand the answer to the question, “what is hearing loss?” You first need to know a little about the structure of the ear.
Sound waves pass through the outer ear and reach the eardrum. The eardrum is a thin piece of skin that separates the outer from the middle ear and vibrates in response to sound waves.
When sound waves reach the inner ear, they pass through the snail-shaped structure called the cochlea. It contains nerve cells and multiple miniature hairs called cilia which help to convert the waves into electrical signals.
The brain picks up these electrical signals and detects them as sound. This is how the brain distinguishes different sounds.
Hearing loss types
There are three hearing loss types, conductive, sensorineural, and mixed hearing loss.
- Sensorineural hearing loss: SNHL hearing loss is associated with damage to the inner ear. This form of hearing loss is permanent.A person with SNHL will hear normal or loud sounds in a muffled manner. It can occur due to medications.It is common for patients with SNHL to use a hearing aid or get a cochlear implant done.
- Conductive hearing loss: Conductive hearing loss is associated with outer and middle ear problems. With this condition, sound cannot travel from the outer to the middle ear.
- Mixed hearing loss: This type of hearing loss is essentially a mix of sensorineural and conductive hearing loss. It typically occurs due to trauma caused to the ear.The treatment for this type of hearing loss depends on whether it is more sensorineural or conductive in nature.If the mixed hearing loss is more sensorineural, then hearing aids or implantable devices might be required. On the other hand, if the conductive component causes greater hearing loss, then surgical intervention might be the best option.
Hearing loss causes
Here are the typical hearing loss causes that can result in the deterioration of hearing:
- Infections of the ear.
- Swimmer’s ear (when water enters the ear while swimming causing an infection).
- Wax accumulation in the ear.
- Foreign objects that get stuck in the ear, recurrent infections causing scarring of the ear canal, and benign tumours are also likely to cause hearing loss.
Conductive hearing loss is treated with antibiotics. Sometimes surgical implants such as cochlear implants are necessary.
Symptoms of hearing loss
Hearing loss does not happen suddenly. It is a gradual process. But when the symptoms begin to appear, medical assistance should be sought, particularly if the following symptoms are observed:
- Ringing sensation in the ears.
- Deterioration in hearing.
- When hearing loss compromises the quality of life.
- Hearing loss in one ear.
- Hearing problems accompanied by pain.
Hearing loss treatment
Hearing loss treatment may improve the quality of life significantly. Confidence level increases, and so does the ability to communicate with others.
A doctor will recommend a hearing loss test as follows:
- Physical exam: From this initial hearing loss test, the doctor checks if the loss of hearing is due to SNHL or if it is conductive hearing loss.A physical exam checks for infection, earwax build-up or the presence of foreign bodies.
- Tuning fork test: The tuning fork tests the degree of hearing loss in each ear. There are two types:
- Weber’s test: This test is effective for cases of hearing loss in one ear. The doctor strikes a tuning fork of 512 Hz and puts it on the middle of the patient’s forehead.If the tuning form seems louder in the affected ear, the hearing loss could be conductive. If it sounds louder in the unaffected ear, the patient might have sensorineural hearing loss.
- Rinne test: We also conduct the Rinne test using a tuning fork. The doctor places a vibrating tuning fork behind the patient’s ear until they cannot hear the sound.The doctor places the tuning fork behind the ear and slowly moves it in front of the ear canal. If the patient can hear it better in front of the ear canal, the diagnosis is SNHL.
- Audiogram: An audiogram is the most accurate hearing loss test possible. This test uses an audiometer.An audiologist performs the test in a soundproof booth.The patient wears earphones and listens to words and tones in different volumes and frequencies. The audiologist interprets responses to these signals and measures the degree of hearing loss accordingly.
How to prevent hearing loss
Hearing loss is not always preventable, but several steps can be taken to protect hearing, such as:
- Wearing earplugs while swimming.
- Avoiding concerts with loud music.
- Using protective gear like ear muffs or ear plugs in high-noise zones.
- Listening to music at lower volumes while using headphones or earplugs.
- Seeking timely medical assistance in case of ear infections.
It is inadvisable to put off treatment for loss of hearing. Early detection and treatment will result in a better outcome.
In case of hearing loss symptoms patients should visit the CK Birla Hospital or book an appointment with Dr Anish Gupta.
Our highly-qualified healthcare professionals treat all ear, nose and throat afflictions, including the head and neck regions. Our team of ENT surgeons treat patients across all age groups, including children and the elderly.