Hearing loss or deafness is the decrease in sensitivity of our hearing mechanism or the sense of hearing. Our ears are the organs for picking up the sound signals and processing them. Though hearing loss is very common, the disorder is complex as hearing involves a delicate transmission of sound through the outer, middle and the inner ear. Deafness can take place for different reasons; it can be of different intensity levels and can start at any stage of our life. To understand how it can be diagnosed and what the treatments are, it is necessary to know the primary Hearing loss causes and its symptoms. Once the diagnosis is confirmed that we do have some level of hearing loss, we can take appropriate hearing loss treatment.
Causes of Hearing Loss
Hearing is a complex process as the journey of the sound waves starts at the Outer ear and travels through the different bones and mediums in our ear and ends as electrical pulses in our brain. Damage to any of the parts which form the hearing mechanism can affect our hearing. In most cases, it is acquired Hearing loss but it can be inherited or is caused in infants at the time of birth.
The primary reasons for hearing loss are as under:
- A physical injury to the head near the ears.
- Severe Infection requiring high dose of antibiotics, Some antibiotic drugs can be ototoxic (toxic or poisonous)
- Continuous exposure to very loud noises and sounds. Could be industrial noise or listening to very loud music, especially with headphones
- As part of the ageing process. The delicate hair cells in the inner ear die and the nerves carrying the sound signal to the brain become weak.
- Accumulation of fluid in the middle ear
- Serious infections, such as meningitis in children
Effects of Hearing Loss on Daily Life
Hearing is one of the 5 senses we are blessed with, even a small degree of hearing loss can upset our normal life leading to serious consequences. Untreated hearing loss is mainly the one that gives rise to many of these problems. Proper timely medical treatment, use of digital Hearing aids that are rechargeable or Cochlear implants can help us lead a near-normal life.
Psychological Consequences of Hearing Loss
Psychological consequences include embarrassment due to communication problems resulting in self-isolation leading to depression and even Alzheimer’s disease in extreme cases. People suffer from concentration problems due to lack of confidence and low self-esteem. The accompanying physical consequences can range from headaches and muscle tension to stress and increased blood pressure.
Other psychological problems are
- Facing regular embarrassment in practical situations giving rise to anger
- Unable to concentrate if in a situation
- Inability to handle situations leading to sadness, guilt or depression
- Frustration in life
- Increased anxiety leading to higher stress levels
- Insecurity as one has to be dependent on others
- Low self-esteem / self-confidence
- In some cases, people are known to become paranoid.
Social Consequences of Hearing Loss
For people who suffer from deafness from birth face serious challenges in their social lives especially participation in social events. Some of the primary social consequences include:
- Avoiding family get together and social gatherings due to their inability to communicate efficiently.
- Problems at work – they may not get promotions or may even have to leave work or take premature retirement if they do not use Digital Hearing aids or Cochlear Implants
- Communication problems and misunderstandings with the spouse, children, relatives and friends
- Unable to play and communicate with grandchildren, if the person is elderly.
- Loss of intimacy giving rise to sexual problems in case of married persons
Physical Consequences of Hearing Loss
Untreated hearing loss usually results in certain physical problems. Some of the consequences include:
- Fatigue due to excess concentration required to hear the other person or try to lip read
- Headaches caused by additional stress
- Muscular tension
- Mental Stress – can also lead to other medical issues
- Sleep problems
- Hypertension or increase in blood pressure
We should immediately consult an ENT doctor or an audiologist if we realize that we are missing some words in a meeting or group conversation. If one is repeatedly requesting others to repeat themselves, we need to undergo a Hearing test which will confirm the type of hearing loss and the extent or the intensity of hearing loss. Mentioned below are some preliminary hearing tests which are required to confirm the presence of hearing loss?
Hearing Screening and Diagnostic Tests
- Pure Tone Audiometry
Pure Tone Audiometry is a simple basic test in which different frequencies are presented to each ear through a headphone. The Audiologist conducting the test will increase or decrease the loudness levels to determine your hearing threshold
This particular test is to check the inner ear. A probe is inserted into the ear and a fixed tone is presented. Another probe exerts air pressure to displace or move the eardrum. The results help the Audiologist to determine whether the problem is present in the middle ear.
- Oto-Acoustic Emission
Commonly known as OAE, it’s a quick screening test to determine hearing loss. Normally children are subjected to OAE tests. In case the OAE report indicates hearing loss, the Audiologist will advise further detailed testing. OAE test can be conducted on babies while they are asleep and hardly takes a few minutes.
Many countries have made neonatal testing or hearing test for newborn babies compulsory before the mother is discharged. Early detection helps in early treatment and a higher chance of the baby leading a normal life.
Hearing Loss Test for Children
All children should be evaluated for hearing before they enter school or whenever a hearing problem is suspected. Many children and their parents are unaware of mild hearing loss, the tell-tale signs are the child falling behind in studies. This is due to the child’s inability to hear and understand the lessons in the classroom.
Let us protect our hearing and immediately consult a qualified medical practitioner to start on the hearing loss treatment at the earliest.