Consequences of Hearing Loss
Hearing loss can have a significant impact on your quality of life. Long recognized for causing increased stress, anxiety, irritability, and impaired personal relationships, recent research has uncovered even more serious conditions linked to hearing loss that researchers are just starting to understand, including links to Alzheimer’s Disease and mental decline. The fact is, there are major negative psychological, cognitive, and social effects that result from hearing loss if left untreated. These effects can inhibit a person’s communication ability so much that their professional and personal lives can begin to suffer.
Studies have shown a link between untreated hearing loss and:
- irritability, stress, tension, and anger
- avoidance of social situations, social rejection
- fatigue, reduced alertness
- impaired memory
- difficulty learning new tasks
- decreased professional performance
Alzheimer’s Disease – Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia, may see even more negative effects of these serious conditions when hearing loss is also present, according to a study from Johns Hopkins University and the National Institute on Aging.
Depression and Social Isolation – Adults of all ages and races with hearing loss are more prone to depression, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD).
Impaired Memory and Mental Decline – People with hearing loss experience a 40% higher rate of decline in cognitive functioning compared to those with normal hearing, according to studies from Johns Hopkins University. Which means, your ability to reason, respond and stay engaged is diminished.
Lower Household Income – In a survey conducted by the Better Hearing Institute, those with hearing loss were found to earn up to $12,000 less annually, depending on the degree of hearing loss. Those who wore hearing aids reduced this impact by 50%. In other words, if you experience hearing loss that could be treated with hearing aids and choose not to wear them, you could be costing yourself a lot in lost income.
Increased Risk of Fall and Accidents – People with mild hearing loss are three times more likely to have a history of falling, with the risk increasing as the hearing loss becomes worse. The result is that you could find yourself in the emergency room more often and be more likely to be seriously injured. Additionally, hearing loss can make it difficult to hear car horns, ambulance and police sirens, fire alarms, and other alerts to danger, exposing you to an increased risk of injury.
Hearing loss is also sometimes a symptom of a more serious underlying medical condition, such as blood vessel problems, infections, or tumors. While there are many dangers associated with hearing loss, the good news is that you may be able to help avoid, eliminate, or reduce these conditions by getting your hearing tested and treated.
Understanding and protecting your hearing
Your hearing is a gift that should be valued and protected. While anyone at any age can experience hearing loss, there are steps you can take to protect your hearing. The first step begins with understanding how your hearing works.
How Hearing Works
Your ear is composed of three parts, your outer ear, middle ear and inner ear. Sound is processed in three steps:
- A sound is produced and sound waves are picked up by the outer ear. They are then channeled through the ear canal and strike the eardrum (tympanic membrane). The eardrum vibrates, transmitting the sound wave to three small middle ear bones.
- The three middle ear bones (the hammer, anvil, and stirrup) receive, amplify, and transmit the vibrations from the eardrum to the cochlea of the inner ear.
- The cochlea receives the vibrations, causing movement of the fluid within the cochlea. The nerve cells of hearing, called hair cells, are stimulated by the movement. The hair cells convert the movement into electrical impulses that are sent to the brain via the auditory nerve for processing.
Main Causes of Hearing Loss
The main causes of hearing loss include:
- Aging (age related hearing loss is termed “Presbyacusis”)
- Noise exposure, which can be sudden in onset or gradual over many years
- Genetic malformations or disorders, such as otosclerosis
- Infections, such as otitis media (infection in the middle ear)
- Injury to the head or ear
- Ototoxic reaction to drugs like antibiotics or cancer treatment like chemotherapy
- Other diseases of the ear, such as Meniere’s Disease
- Sudden idiopathic sensorineural hearing loss
Limit Exposure to Loud Noises
Loud noise is dangerous to our hearing because it can overload the delicate hair cells that convert sound into signals for our brain to process. When these cells are damaged badly enough, they can die, resulting in sensorineural hearing loss or tinnitus. The hair cells process high-frequency sounds, like a child’s voice, usually become damaged first.
While many causes of hearing loss are impossible to avoid, limiting your exposure to loud noises is an important step you can take to protect your hearing.
- Turn the volume down on the TV, stereo, cell phone, and any other audio device. Limit the time spent using earbuds or headphones.
- When around loud noise, including loud power equipment, gunfire, or loud music, wear hearing protection consistently. If you are around loud noises frequently, please call our office to discuss custom hearing protection options.
Tinnitus is a condition characterized by hearing ringing, humming, or buzzing that does not have an external source. The sounds may be a combination of sounds or a single changing sound, constant or intermittent, and may be and heard in just one ear, both ears or inside the head. Patients with tinnitus can sometimes hear singing or music. Tinnitus is not a hallucination or ‘phantom sound’ caused by mental illness. Tinnitus produces real neural activity within your brain which is interpreted as sound.
Close to four in ten people experience tinnitus for 80% of a typical day. More than one in four people experience tinnitus they describe as loud; and nearly one in five experience tinnitus as they describe as disabling or nearly disabling. Tinnitus may be accompanied by hyperacusis, a condition that causes moderately loud sounds to be perceived as very loud.
Causes of Tinnitus
Tinnitus originates behind the eardrum in the middle ear or in the sensorineural auditory system. The most common causes of tinnitus include head injury, noise exposure, as a side effect of certain medications, and as a natural part of aging.
Tinnitus is very often accompanied by hearing loss. For this reason, it is recommended that if you experience tinnitus, you have a hearing evaluation.
Classifications of Tinnitus
Tinnitus can sometimes be classified as either sensorineural tinnitus or middle ear tinnitus, which corresponds to the underlying pathology, and also corresponds to the classification of hearing loss when hearing is present.
Middle ear tinnitus results from either muscles twitching or abnormal blood flow. In some cases, middle ear tinnitus may be treatable with surgery.
Sensorineural tinnitus can result from head injury, infections, normal aging, side effects from medication or noise exposure. Abnormal spontaneous nerve activity is occurring – an increase in activity, over-representation of a frequency, a synchronous activity across nerve fibers, or a combination of all three.