Hearing Loss

About Hearing Loss

Hearing Loss is a physical disorder which causes a person to be unable to hear speech and other sounds loudly or clearly enough.  Approximately 38 million people in the United States have a hearing loss that affects everyday life. That's more than 10% of the U.S. population! Hearing loss can affect anyone, at any age. In children, hearing loss can interfere with speech and language development and at any age, hearing loss can make daily living difficult. 

In most cases, hearing can be improved with medical intervention or through the use of hearing aids or assistive listening devices. The type of hearing loss will determine what treatment is necessary. Unfortunately, many people with hearing loss will wait 5 to 7 years to seek any treatment! During this time, hearing loss has a big impact on a person's ability to communicate and enjoy everyday conversations with family and friends.

Symptoms Associated with Hearing Loss

-Pain in one or both ears
-Discharge from the ear(s)
-Ringing or buzzing (tinnitus)
-Dizziness (vertigo) with no apparent cause
-Inability to hear certain sounds (ie: doorbell, phone ringing, etc.)
-Straining to hear conversational speech and feeling like people seem to mumble
-Need for increased volume on the TV or radio
-Difficulty hearing clearly on the phone
-Difficulty hearing when a person talks to you from behind you or from another room
-Difficulty following a conversation in meetings or lectures
-Difficulty hearing in church, at the theater, cinema, or other events
-It's difficult to hear in noisy environments like a car or a restaurant
-Avoiding social situations because of difficulty hearing and communicating
-Need to have things repeated or rephrased

Elderly Couple Dancing

Types of Hearing Loss

Conductive Hearing Loss: Sound waves are blocked in the outer or middle ear and it takes more sound energy for sound waves to reach the inner ear. Sounds will seem muffled or faint and there could be other symptoms of pain and/or discharge in some cases. Possible causes include: excessive ear wax (cerumen) build-up, a foreign object in the ear canal, inflammation of ear canal tissue, fluid accumulation behind the eardrum (tympanic membrane), scarring on the eardrum, fixation of the middle ear bones, ear infection, or a perforated eardrum.

Sensori-neural Hearing Loss: Occurs when there is damage to the inner ear (cochlea) or to the auditory nerve pathways from the inner ear (retrocochlear) to the brain. Sounds are harder to hear and speech sounds may also be distorted making it more difficult to understand conversational speech. Symptoms of tinnitus (ringing/buzzing), or vertigo (dizziness) might also be present. Possible causes include: Exposure to noise, aging process, disease (ie: mumps, measles, rubella, meningitis), heredity, head trauma, or medications.  

Mixed Hearing Loss: This type of hearing loss is a combination of conductive and sensori-neural hearing loss. 

Central Hearing Loss: Sounds are transmitted correctly, but are interpreted incorrectly by the brain. This will make it difficult to follow directions or to discriminate speech in the presence of background noise. Possible causes include: Strokes, head injury, or central nerve damage/diseases.

Possible Treatments for Hearing Loss

Medication: Antibiotics and other prescribed medications sometimes help in cases of conductive hearing loss (ie: healing infections, helping with nasal congestion or allergies)

Surgery: This is used primarily in the case of conductive hearing loss. Some surgical procedures that are done include: rebuilding the middle ear system by replacing damaged middle ear bones, repairing a perforated eardrum, relieving pressure by draining middle ear fluid and inserting ventilation tubes, removing diseased tissue, removing foreign objects or tumors in the outer/middle ear space, inserting a bone anchored hearing device or cochlear implant.

Hearing Aids: A hearing aid is a miniature, electronic amplifier that helps a person compensate for hearing loss. It increases the sound intensity and expands the range of tones heard. There are many different makes and models which are described in more detail under the hearing aid tab on this website.

Instruction: People with hearing loss are taught to use their remaining (residual) hearing ability. This is called aural rehabilitation.  Persons with hearing loss are taught how to speak, listen, speech (lip) read, or use sign language to communicate effectively.  

How to Provide Support for a Person with Hearing Loss

1. Speak to the person at a normal volume. You do not need to shout or raise your voice. It makes you appear angry and does not help the hearing impaired person understand what you are saying any better. Therefore, it is best to speak naturally and distinctly.

2. Face the person directly and on the same level with them when speaking, and make sure you have their full attention.

3. Don't try to talk against background noise (ie: TV, radio, other voices, traffic noise, etc.). This makes it more difficult to understand speech. Therefore, it is best to try to eliminate any unnecessary background noise, if possible.

4. Don't talk to the person from behind them, from the other side of the room, or from another room. These situations are all more difficult for the hearing impaired person and just increase frustration for both of you. 

5. Don't hide your mouth and don't eat, chew, or smoke when you are talking to the person. Chewing, eating, or smoking while you talk, makes your speech more difficult to understand.

6. Speak clearly, more slowly, and in shorter sentences, using simple words.

7. Use facial expressions and gestures to help give more meaning to what you say.

8. If something you say is not understood, it usually does not help to repeat it in exactly the same way. Try to rephrase it or say it in a different way. Different words or phrases are sometimes easier to understand.

9. Sometimes it's helpful to write key words or phrases for the person to read.

10. Recognize that hearing impaired persons have greater difficulty hearing and understanding when they are tired or ill.

11. Your patience, understanding, support, and encouragement are very important in helping the person with hearing loss overcome any communication difficulties.