Hearing Loss: How It Affects All Age Groups
I already know what you’re thinking; “I’m young and healthy – I won’t even have to consider the notion of hearing loss for years!” While it’s certainly true that hearing loss is more prevalent with our seniors, it is something we should all educate ourselves on. Hearing loss can occur with babies, children and even adults, long before they hit old age.
The more you know about hearing loss, the better you can look out for the signs, as well as be prepared with any preventative measures you can take. After all, the ability to hear is one of our most valuable senses, and we should do everything we can to protect it.
Hearing Loss in Babies & Children
Although not as common as hearing loss with seniors, hearing loss in babies and children can cause a delay in language and speech development. If the child is struggling to hear, they won’t be able to develop essential speech and language skills as they grow.
A 2005 study conducted by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) concluded that:
- 5 out of 1000 children are impacted by hearing loss.
- A diagnosis is made between the ages 3 and 17.
- In 2013, 12.5% of children aged between 6 and 19 have suffered permanent damage in their hearing due to an increase of sound in their environment.
What causes childhood hearing loss?
Hearing loss in babies and children can be categorized as either congenital or acquired. Congenital hearing loss indicates that the condition was present at birth, while acquired hearing loss indicates the condition arose after birth.
Due to the prevalence of hearing loss in our younger population, it’s important to know what may cause it, so that it can be effectively treated to mitigate any developmental problems the child may encounter.
Congenital Hearing Loss:
Non-genetic factors account for roughly 25% of congenital hearing loss. Non-genetic factors include:
- Birth complications,
- Premature birth,
- A nervous system or brain disorder,
- Medication used during pregnancy which is toxic to the ears (ototoxic),
- The mother having an infection during pregnancy,
- Maternal diabetes and
- Drug use, alcohol abuse or smoking by the mother during pregnancy.
Genetic factors account for more than 50% of hearing loss in children. These genetic factors include:
- If both parents of the child carry a recessive gene, this may be passed onto the child, resulting in autosomal recessive hearing loss. Neither parents need to be suffering from hearing loss to pass this gene onto their children.
- Autosomal dominant hearing loss may occur if one parent is carrying a dominant gene for hearing loss and passes it onto their children. This can display itself in the form of mild symptoms or genetic issues; however, it may not always be so obvious.
- Genetic syndromes such as down syndrome, Alport syndrome, Crouzon syndrome, Treacher Collins syndrome and Waardenburg Syndrome.
Acquired Hearing Loss:
Conditions that can cause hearing loss after birth include:
- A perforated eardrum,
- A significant build-up of ear wax,
- Otosclerosis or Meniere’s diseases,
- Injuries to the head,
- Exposure to tobacco smoke,
- Antenatal ototoxic medicine use,
- Ear infections which are left untreated,
- Childhood infections and diseases such as mumps, measles or meningitis,
- Prolonged loud noise exposure
Can childhood hearing loss be treated?
Yes! Childhood hearing loss can certainly be treated, and the chances of success increase exponentially the earlier the condition is diagnosed. Audiologists can perform in-depth behavioral hearing examinations for children as early as 6 months old.
Depending on the results of the testing, an audiologist may suggest the following options:
- Hearing aids may be a solution to assist children who are hard of hearing. Technology has come a long way since the inception of these devices, and they can be designed in ways to ensure that children don’t remove or misplace them.
- Cochlear implants can be surgically installed to help stimulate inner ear nerves – specifically, auditory nerves. These may be beneficial if hearing aids are not possible for fitting with certain children.
- Speech therapy may be required for children who need some help catching up on their delay in developing their language skills due to hearing loss.
Hearing Loss in Adults and Seniors
Difficulty hearing as you age is quite common, and about 8.5% US citizens aged 55-64 report suffering from a loss of hearing. Hearing loss is almost 1 in 4 for those aged between 65 and 70, and 1 in 2 for those 75 and older.
Symptoms of hearing loss include:
- Speech and other sounds are muffled,
- Words become more difficult to understand, especially when there is significant background noise,
- Difficulty in hearing consonants,
- Requiring people to speak slowly, clearly and loudly,
- Having to turn up the volume on your electronic devices higher than normal,
- Lacking the confidence to have conversations and attending some social functions.
While it may seem like a daunting list of symptoms, understanding how hearing loss can occur can help you detect the signs early, and seek help as soon as possible.
What can cause hearing loss in adults and seniors?
- Aging and a consistent exposure to loud noises can damage cochlea hairs and nerve cells, which sends signals to the brain. Damage to the inner ear can result in these electrical signals being interrupted, or not sent altogether, resulting in hearing loss.
- Earwax build-up can prevent sound waves from travelling as they should due to blockage of the ear canal.
- Ear infections, abnormal bone growth or tumors in the outer or middle ear can result in hearing loss.
- Sudden loud bursts of noise, immediate changes in pressure or an obstruction of the eardrum with objects can cause a ruptured eardrum, resulting in hearing loss.
What should I be on the look-out for?
High-risk factors that can significantly damage your inner ear and cause hearing loss in children and adults include:
- Ageing. As we get older, our inner ear structures degenerate over time.
- Loud noises can harm inner ear cells. Damage happens can occur due to long-term exposure to loud sounds, or the sudden exposure to a short-blast of noise, such as a gunshot.
- These loud sounds can also include occupational noises, where loud noises are a part of your regular work environment.
- Recreational noises, such as loud noises from firearms or jet engines can cause permanent hearing loss. Other activities such as snowmobiling, motorcycling or constantly listening to loud can also contribute to hearing loss.
- Your genetics may make you more susceptible to hearing loss as you age.
- Drugs, for example, those used during chemotherapy and certain antibiotics, can harm your inner ear. If you regularly take large doses of pain medications such as aspirin, loop diuretics or drugs that combat malaria, you may suffer from temporary hearing loss.
- Diseases or illnesses that cause a high fever may damage the cochlea.
How do I prevent hearing loss in old age?
While some instances of hearing loss in old age are inevitable, there are always steps we can take to improve our chances against hearing loss, and the older we get, the more active we should be in the following preventative measures:
- Avoiding excessive noise, such as sounds from motorcycles, concert speakers and loud power tools can go a long way in ensuring our hearing doesn’t rapidly deteriorate.
- Hearing protection is essential if you know you’re going to be around loud noises for more than a few minutes. Earplugs or earmuffs should always be at the ready in these instances.
- Research shows that tobacco can make you more likely to lose your hearing, so quitting smoking or avoiding second-hand smoke would be an ideal step to take to ward off hearing loss.
- A build-up of earwax can muffle the sounds that you hear, and whilst it’s important to remove this earwax to improve your hearing, removing it incorrectly can cause a lot more harm than good. If you’re unsure how to safely remove earwax from your ears, contact your doctor so they can advise you how to do it safely.
- The most important thing you can do to monitor your hearing loss is to have your hearing regularly tested. If you feel like you’re suffering from any of the symptoms of hearing loss noted above, immediately visit your doctor for a consult.
One of the prevailing methods of improving hearing as we reach old age is the use of hearing aids. A hearing aid is a small electronic device that you wear in or behind your ear which can make some sounds louder, allowing people with hearing loss to listen, communicate and participate more fully in daily activities.Did you know that roughly only 1 in 5 people who could actually benefit from a hearing aid actually uses one? If you’ve been recommended a hearing aid from your audiologist or think it might be the best next step to combat your hearing loss, the team at Best Hearing Aid are ready to help. Feel free to give us a call on (800) 376-6001 to have a chat and discover what hearing aid might be right for you.