In the UK it is estimated by Action on Hearing Loss (formerly the Royal National Institute for the Deaf or RNID) that approximately 1 in 7 people demonstrate the signs of hearing loss and that number is growing as the shape of the population changes with longer life expectancy. Many people are quite surprised by this statistic as some suspect hearing loss to affect less people than visual impairment whereas in fact the ratio is broadly the same.
Hearing loss is caused by several different factors but by far the most common is related to age. As we get older, the hair cells in the inner ear which are responsible for transmitting sound waves from the fluid filled cochlear to the brain, become worn or damaged and as such cause a reduced ability to hear certain sounds, mostly in the higher frequencies. Approximately 85% of all hearing losses fall into this category. The remaining 15% of hearing losses can be categorised as Noise Induced (caused by sudden or prolonged exposure to loud sounds) and congenital and medical conditions which can be permanent or temporary.
Hearing loss can be broken into three main types: Sensorineural (damaged or worn hair cells), Conductive (caused by a blockage in the hearing pathway before the inner ear such as infection, wax build-up, damaged, missing or deformed bones of the middle ear or even a perforated ear drum) or Mixed (a combination of both Sensorineural and Conductive hearing loss).
Sensorineural hearing loss, when caused by the natural wear and tear of ageing, is referred to as Presbycusis and as already stated, is by far the most common. The resultant hearing loss is typically greater in the higher frequencies from where much of our speech understanding is derived. Sounds such as ‘th’ and ‘s’ become hard to distinguish and many of the consonants required to give words meaning become more difficult to decipher. Consequently, the main manifestation and symptom of age-related hearing loss is difficulty in conversations, particularly when in the presence of background noise.
Untreated hearing loss can have www.stating effects on both the individual and those around them. It can be the cause of frustration for the sufferer as they are unable to participate easily in conversation and can often miss out on the pleasant and sometimes necessary aspects of verbal communication with others. This can often lead to social exclusion which can be self-imposed or consequential to lack of participation, in either event this has further ramifications in the form potential depression and the breakdown of relationships.
The sad consequences of untreated hearing loss can be avoided; however, the solutions or help available are often misconceived. The immediate reaction to the thought that one might have to use a hearing aid tends to illicit feelings of growing older and concerns over stigmatisation. In reality, the need for hearing help is as common as the need for reading glasses and should, frankly, be viewed in much the same way. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy that if you delay getting hearing help as long as possible ‘only really deaf and old people’ wear a hearing aid.
Another facet to delaying treatment for hearing loss is that, contrary to popular myth, early intervention often slows the rate of any degenerative loss rather than exacerbating it. This is due to the nature of the auditory or ‘hearing’ process. In order to ‘hear’ a sound, there are several steps in the process and an interruption in any of these can result in a hearing loss. There are three basic parts to the hearing process – The Outer Ear, Middle Ear and Inner Ear. The outer ear includes the ear itself which is externally visible along with the ear canal leading to the ear drum. Sound is captured by the outer ear and channelled into the ear canal to the ear drum. Sound is transmitted from the ear drum to the Middle Ear which includes an air filled chamber connected to the Eustachian tubes which equalise pressure on either side of the ear drum. This air filled chamber transmits the vibrations from the ear drum to three small bones which then amplify the vibrations and transmit them to the Inner Ear. The Inner Ear is filled with fluid inside the cochlear, the cochlear is lined with over 15,000 hair cells which pick up waves in the fluid caused by sound transmission from small bones in the Middle Ear. These hair cells trigger impulses along the auditory nerve which carries these impulses to the brain for interpretation. It is really at this point that we ‘hear’ sounds.
As we grow, our brain ‘learns’ the interpretation of sounds and filters out the sounds we don’t want to listen to and focuses our attention on what we do wish to hear – which is why we can be listening to someone talking with background speech noise of others talking. We ignore the other ‘speech’ and focus on the person we are directly talking with BUT if we hear something of interest from the background speech e.g. our name, we seem to ‘hear’ it and not ignore it. This skill can become much diminished if the auditory input to the brain is reduced as in the case of hearing loss – therefore the more stimulation provided to the brain the less chance we have of ‘losing’ this acquired skill. It is for this reason that treating hearing loss as early as possible is to be advised.
If you (or someone you know) have concerns over your hearing, we would certainly recommend giving us a call on the number at the top of the website and we can arrange for a free hearing test to determine the extent of any hearing loss and perhaps recommend one or two surprisingly different options that might contradict some out-dated preconceptions.