Hearing loss affects around 48 million Americans. The degree of hearing loss can range from mild to profound. Although hearing problems can occur at any age, they are most commonly seen in older adults, with two in three people over age 75 experiencing some degree of hearing loss.
“Most people are aware that hearing loss can occur naturally with increasing age, but often do not consider that recreational or occupational noise exposures, family history of hearing loss, or other health issues such as diabetes or certain cancer treatments may also contribute to hearing concerns, said audiologist, Heidi Schmeltzer, AuD, CCC-A .“If left untreated, it can have significant impact on your physical and mental health.”
There are many common signs that can alert you of a hearing concern. It may be time to have a hearing assessment if you or a loved one:
- Prefer the TV or radio louder than other family members
- Hear a ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
- Ask people to repeat often
- Have difficulty understanding speech, especially in background noise
- Struggle to understand conversations on the phone
- Feel as if voices are muffled or mumbled
Hear from audiologist, Heidi Schmletzer, AuD, CCC-A, during a virtual hearing loss seminar in the video below.
Understanding the ear
When hearing loss is suspected, a licensed audiologist can perform a hearing assessment using an audiogram, which indicates the softest levels of sounds a person can hear. They will also examine the three main parts of the ear: external, middle, and inner ear (often called the cochlear). The outer ear is examined to rule out any obstructions, such as wax or a malformation. The middle ear is then checked for any perforations of the eardrum or current fluid. Finally, an assessment of inner ear is done to determine hearing status.
“An exam is simple, and it is the first step to better hearing,” said Schmeltzer. “It allows us to evaluate how severe your hearing loss is and identify the cause.”
Differences in hearing loss
Depending on what area of the ear is affected, an audiologist can determine what type of hearing loss you may have and how to treat it.
Conductive hearing loss occurs when sound cannot efficiently travel through the outer and middle ear. Ear infections, fluid in the middle ear, a perforation on the eardrum, earwax blockage, swimmer’s ear, foreign bodies, benign tumors, or malformations of the outer or middle ear are all common causes of conductive hearing loss.
Sensorineural hearing loss is the most common type and occurs if there is damage in the inner ear. Common causes include aging, hereditary hearing loss, illness, some chemotherapy treatments, head trauma, inner ear malformations, and significant noise exposure.
Mixed hearing loss is when a conductive hearing loss occurs at the same time as a sensorineural hearing loss affecting all parts of the ear at the same time. For example, if conductive hearing loss occurs due to an ear infection in someone who has permanent hearing loss due to noise exposure, this would be classified as a mixed hearing loss.
Finding the right device for you
One of the most common devices used to correct hearing problems are hearing aids. They amplify sounds into a range that the user’s ear can hear. Lakeland Ear, Nose and Throat offers a variety of device options, sizes, styles, and amplification levels that are customizable to your hearing preference and comfort. Modern hearing aids are small and discrete.
“At Lakeland, our team of audiologists work with several of the top hearing aid manufacturers to give you the best options for you and your ears,” said Schmeltzer.
An osseointegrated device, often called bone anchored hearing aids, is an alternative option for severe hearing problems. This device transmits sound to the inner ear using vibrations, bypassing the outer and middle ear. Most devices will require a surgical component performed as an outpatient procedure by an otolaryngologist, or ear, nose, and throat surgeon, and a follow up appointment with an audiologist to activate and program the sound processor.
If hearing aids are no longer an option, a cochlear implant may be a suitable choice. It consists of two parts, the internal implant, and the external sound processor. An otolaryngologist will surgically implant the internal portion during an outpatient surgery while the audiologist activates and programs the external device.
“Patients with cochlear implants will continue to work closely with an audiologist as they learn to process this new way of perceiving sound,” said Schmeltzer. “You’re not alone in this process.”
No matter what device you choose to aid in your hearing problems, your care team will guide and support you, so you can continue to hear at the best possible levels.
To learn more about addressing hearing concerns or scheduling a hearing assessment visit lakelandent.com or call 269.687.2910 in Niles or 269.982.3368 in St. Joseph.