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,
- The use of ototoxic medication by the mother during pregnancy,
- 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. The parent may or may not be suffering from hearing loss, but may have symptoms or signs of a genetic disorder.
- 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,
- Infections such as meningitis, measles, mumps or whooping cough,
- Taking ototoxic medications,
- A serious head injury,
- Exposure to loud noise,
- Untreated ear infections and
- Exposure to second-hand smoke.
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 help children with hearing loss hear clearly again. 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 are surgically implanted devices that directly stimulate the auditory nerves in the inner ear using electrical stimulation. Cochlear implants are beneficial for babies and children who are unable to benefit from a hearing aid.
- 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 25% of people in the United States between the ages of 55 and 64 suffer from hearing loss. Hearing loss is almost 1 in 2 for those older than 65.
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 cause wear and tear on the hairs or nerve cells in the cochlea, 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.
- A build-up of earwax can block the ear canal and prevent the conduction of sound waves.
- 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.