Hearing Loss | Signs, Types, Treatment Options and More

Hearing Loss Prevalence

Hearing loss is the third most common health condition in the US, after arthritis and heart disease, and most often, it is caused by aging or long exposure to loud noise. Despite its ubiquity, the experience of hearing loss is a difficult one to reconcile. People might find it difficult to discuss their hearing with colleagues in a professional setting, at the risk that it might affect their jobs. Individuals who experience hearing loss also find themselves isolated socially, whether it is due to challenges of conversations in big groups or loud spaces, or a decreased desire to pursue their favorite activities, hobbies, and cultural events.

What hearing loss does to communication

Hearing loss often times interferes the ability to hear higher-frequency voices; for older Americans who are grandparents and are experiencing hearing loss, this might lead to isolation from their grandchildren. Studies have shown that hearing loss has negative effects on interpersonal relationships as well. With spouses, partners, friends, and family members, a feeling of frustration might arise when clear communication is hindered by hearing loss. In most cases, the biggest problem reported is the challenge of verbal communication, whether in group conversations, with many voices chiming in, or within a busy restaurant, party, or family gathering. Most people who experience hearing loss are aware of the occurrence, but are hesitant to seek treatment. At the same time, the family and friends of individuals who experience hearing loss will have noticed that there have been changes but do not want to broach this sensitive subject. However, the reality is that 48 million Americans (20%) experience hearing loss, and there is advanced technology to treat this condition.

Signs of Hearing Loss

More than 35 million Americans suffer from hearing loss. You should contact a hearing professional as soon as possible if you've experienced any of these signs or symptoms.

  • You have difficulty understanding group conversations.
  • Others have to loudly repeat what they've just said to you.
  • Family or friends complain about the volume at which you watch TV or listen to the radio.
  • Family members argue with you about your possible hearing loss.
  • You avoid social activities because you worry about being able to hear other people.
  • Soft speech or whispering is difficult to hear.
  • You hear, but don't always understand, what other people say.
  • People seem to mumble or speak too softly to you.
  • You find you hear better when you can see a person's face.

Hearing loss types

Before fitting you with hearing aids – or determining whether you need them at all – hearing professionals must determine the type and severity of your hearing loss.

Conductive Hearing Loss

Conductive hearing loss occurs in the ear canal or the middle ear, and is similar to an ear infection. Obstruction, such as wax, or other damage in the ear can cause conductive hearing loss. What you can do: Doctors normally can treat conductive hearing loss without the use of hearing aids.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Sensorineural hearing loss is the most common type of hearing loss. It occurs in the nerves, and it is permanent. What you can do: While there currently is no way to repair sensorineural hearing loss, hearing aids can help. However, early detection is critical, and you should contact a provider as soon as you suspect you may have hearing loss.

Mixed Hearing Loss

Mixed hearing loss is a combination of conductive hearing loss and sensorineural hearing loss. What you can do: Contact a hearing provider to schedule a professional evaluation.

Why Early Treatment Is Critical

Hearing loss severity greatly affects the helpfulness of hearing aids. The more hearing loss you have, the less effective hearing aids will be, because they cannot completely restore hearing that is already gone. Hearing is not a fine bottle of wine and does not get better with age. The average person waits 7 to 10 years to seek help for hearing loss. By then, treatment options often are limited. Left untreated, hearing loss can impair your brain's ability to recognize and process sound, which decreases your mental sharpness and ability to communicate. Your brain is a vital organ that has connections which can deteriorate over time if they go unused. Hearing loss is a cause of this deterioration as sounds that were heard before now go unreceived by the brain.

More and more studies have been done to determine the particular effects hearing loss has on other body systems. Researchers have determined that untreated hearing loss is linked to depression 1, dementia 2, higher risk of hospitalization 3, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and stroke 4. The experts believe that when the ears are not working as well as they should the brain has to redirect resources to process sound, which causes other areas of the brain to be shorted.

Hearing Loss Associated with Increased Risk of Falling

The study collected data from participants between the ages of 40 and 69 assessing their hearing and balance and noting whether they had fallen in the past year. The research team determined that people with a mild hearing loss (25 decibels) were three times more likely to have a history of falling. As the level of hearing loss increased so did the participants risk of falling.

According to the CDC, every 15 seconds an older adult is taken to the emergency room for a fall. The Johns Hopkins study hypothesized that the reason people with hearing loss have a greater risk of falling is due to cognitive overload. When you have hearing loss your brain has to work harder than normal to listen and understand, leaving fewer resources to maintain your balance.

This data does not mean that people with hearing loss should be kept in a bubble or required to use a cane. A recent study conducted at Washington University found that hearing aids had a positive impact on the balance of people with hearing loss. The study required subjects aged 65 to 91 to perform various balance tests with their hearing aids switched off and then again with them turned on.

The Washington University study is the first to show that sound helps us maintain stability, not just the balance systems of the inner ear. "We don't think it's just that wearing hearing aids makes the person more alert," said senior author Timothy E. Hullar, MD, professor of otolaryngology at the School of Medicine. "The participants appeared to be using the sound information coming through their hearing aids as auditory reference points or landmarks to help maintain balance."

To avoid slipping and falling, especially during the slippery winter months we recommend:

  1. Wearing your hearing aid if you need to be walking around outside. If you don't currently have a hearing aid consider getting your hearing tested.
  2. Exercise regularly to improve balance and coordination.
  3. Talk to your doctor about medications that may cause dizziness.
  4. Utilize railings.
  5. Have your vision checked.
  6. Recruit a family member or friend to shovel and salt your walkways.

Sounds That Can Damage Your Hearing

Sounds are measured in decibels (dB). An average person can hear sounds down to 0 dB which would be something very quiet like the rustling of leaves. A quiet library measures about 30 dB and a normal conversation occurs at 60 dB. When a sound reaches 85 dB it can start causing harm to your hearing.

85-90 decibels:

  • Garbage truck
  • Lawnmower
  • Truck traffic
  • Hair dryer
  • Blender

Eight hours of exposure (without protection) to noises in this range can cause damage. Consider a construction worker sitting in an idling bulldozer, even without doing any work, the noise from the machine measures about 85 dB, just 1 workday is all it takes to hurt the delicate structures in your ears.

100-110 dB

  • Chainsaw
  • Helicopter
  • Headphones (turned all the way up)

As the decibels increase the amount of time it takes to do damage decreases. Exposure to sounds around 100 dB can cause damage in just 2 hours, that includes listening to your iPod on full blast. Recent studies have shown that nearly 13% of teenagers have noise induced hearing loss. Experts believe this is connected to the use of earbuds.

120 dB and greater

Sounds over 120 dB can cause damage in just 30 seconds and often cause you pain almost immediately.

  • Rock concert
  • Jet engine
  • Firecracker
  • Gun shot
  • Ambulance siren

You can protect yourself! Foam or silicon earplugs cost less than a dollar at the drug store and they are small enough to be thrown in your purse or pocket, just in case you need to use them. Remember to turn down the volume and remind friends and loved ones to do the same.

7 Habits that cause hearing loss (or make it worse)

Researchers are always discovering more connections between the ears and your other body systems. If you've been looking for one more reason to drop a bad habit consider your hearing. Once it's gone, you can't get it back! These five unhealthy habits harm hearing:


You've known for many years that smoking is bad for you; it even says it directly on the box of cigarettes. One of the often-overlooked side affects of smoking is hearing loss. The chemicals produced by smoking a cigarette inhibit your inner ear's ability to transmit vibrations. The more you smoke the more irreversible damage will be done. Second-hand smoke has the same affect on loved ones.


Whether you spend your leisure time jet-skiing (100 dB), at a music venue listening to live performances (120 dB), zipping around on a motorcycle or convertible, or shooting at the gun range (up to 140 dB), your recreational activities may be damaging your hearing without your knowledge. Exposure to loud noises over extended periods of time may lead to noise-induced hearing loss. Over-the-ear noise-canceling headphones or customized earplugs are both solutions to continuing to pursue your passions while also minimizing the damage caused to your hearing.


A study in 2010 found that moderate to high alcohol intake results in brain damage that keeps the brain from being able to interpret and process sounds. The trouble is even worse for folks with alcoholism, the central auditory cortex will become damaged, which may lead to brain shrinkage. Damage to the inner ear known as ototoxicity, is also possible for excessive drinkers. High levels of alcohol in the bloodstream create a toxic environment, which damages the hair cells in the cochlea.


Being over weight puts you at risk for a barrage of problems ranging from diabetes to circulatory trouble, to straining your heart, all of which have been linked to hearing loss. Researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital published a study in 2013 that found women with a higher body mass index had a 17 percent higher risk of hearing loss. The study also found that simple physical activity, such as walking for 2 or more hours a week lowered that risk of hearing loss.

Using earbuds

People use earbuds for jogging, talking on the phone while on the move, and listening to media. Unfortunately, because earbuds do very little to cancel out external noises, people tend to turn up the volume while wearing them. The way earbuds are situated in our ear canals, close to the eardrum, increases the risk of hearing damage. Hearing specialists estimate that listening to music at a high volume on earbuds is comparable to working in a coal mine with power tools. Some music players reach 120 decibels (dB). It is better to use noise-canceling headphones, and also to adhere to the 60-60 rule of listening to media at 60% volume, for no more than 60 minutes a day.

Skipping the Dentist

You may not immediately think your dental health and hearing health are connected, but they certainly are. Poor dental health allows harmful bacteria to enter the bloodstream, narrowing and blocking arteries that lead to the brain. This can interrupt the way the brain receives signals from the auditory nerve. Bad oral hygiene can also lead to heart disease, heart attack, stroke and diabetes, which have been linked to hearing loss.

Skipping the Doctor

An annual physical can detect hearing loss, but more importantly the doctor will be able to tell you if your hearing loss is caused by something other than age. An obstruction, such as earwax buildup, inflammation or tumor can be addressed and possibly get you hearing again or stop further damage.

It is true many people lose their hearing as they age, but these five unhealthy habits harm hearing, speeding that process up. If you take care of your body, avoid these bad habits, and protect your ears you may be able to maintain your hearing.

3 Hearing Loss Myths Busted

Often times when people walk through our door they are nervous, they put off getting a hearing aid for many years and now they are expecting the worst. Below you will find some of the most common hearing loss myths that have kept people from addressing their problem until it became much worse.

Myth: I hear fine, I just have a hard time understanding people because they mumble.

Fact: You actually have the most common type of hearing loss, high frequency. This image above shows the letters you can and cannot hear with high frequency hearing loss. It is no wonder you have a hard time understanding what people are saying, even though you can hear them, you're missing half the letters! A hearing aid will help you hear the frequencies that these letters are in, so that you won't have to think twice when your spouse says grab the hat... or was it cat.

Myth: Only the elderly experience hearing loss

Fact: This is one of the most common myths we hear and it actually couldn't be more wrong. According to the Better Hearing Institute 65% of people with hearing loss are YOUNGER than 65 years old. Hearing loss poses challenges for people of all ages and can adversely affect educational and occupational performance as well as social interaction and safety.

Myth: I go to my doctor regularly I would know if I had a serious hearing problem

Fact: Your hearing changes gradually over time and your brain works to adapt when your hearing isn't working as well, so while others around you may notice you not hearing as well, you may see no difference. You should see a Hearing Specialist or Audiologist at least once a year to have your hearing tested. Most physicians do not screen for hearing loss at a normal check up due to lack of time.

  1. Hearing Loss Tied To Depression In Study
  2. Hearing Loss Linked To Dementia
  3. Hearing Loss Linked to More Hospitalizations and Poorer Physical and Mental Health
  4. Hearing Loss Cause
  5. Consumer Reports Hearing Aids Buying Guide

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