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Hearing Loss
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Hearing loss

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SENIORS' HEALTH

Ear/Nose/Throat

The gradual loss of hearing that occurs as you age (presbycusis) is a common condition.

Hearing loss happens when there is a problem with one or more parts of the ear or ears. Someone who has hearing loss may be able to hear some sounds or nothing at all. Over time, the wear and tear on your ears from noise contributes to hearing loss by damaging the cochlea, a part of your inner ear. Doctors believe that heredity and chronic exposure to loud noises are the main factors that contribute to hearing loss. Other factors, such as earwax blockage, can prevent your ears from conducting sounds as well as they should.

You can't reverse damage to your inner ear. However, you don't have to live in a world of quieter, less distinct sounds. You and your doctor or hearing specialist (audiologist) can take steps to improve what you hear.

Signs and symptoms

Signs and symptoms of hearing loss may include:

  • Muffled quality of speech and other sounds

  • Difficulty understanding words, especially against background noise or in a crowd of people

  • Asking others to speak more slowly, clearly and loudly

  • Needing to turn up the volume of the television or radio

  • Withdrawal from conversations

  • Avoidance of some social settings

Causes

Hearing occurs when sound waves reach the structures inside your ear, and your ear converts the sound wave vibrations into nerve signals that your brain recognizes as sound.

Your ear consists of three major areas: outer ear, middle ear and inner ear. Sound waves pass through the outer ear and cause vibrations at the eardrum. The eardrum and three small bones of the middle ear — the hammer, the anvil and the stirrup — amplify the vibrations as they travel to the inner ear. There, the vibrations pass through fluid in the cochlea, a snail-shaped structure in the inner ear. Attached to nerve cells in the cochlea are thousands of tiny hairs that help translate sound vibrations into electrical signals that are transmitted to your brain. The vibrations of different sounds affect these tiny hairs in different ways, causing the nerve cells to send different signals to your brain. That's how you distinguish one sound from another.

For some people, hearing loss may result from a gradual buildup of earwax, which blocks the ear canal and prevents conduction of sound waves. Earwax blockage is one of the more common causes of hearing loss among people of all ages.

Most hearing loss results from damage to the cochlea. Tiny hairs in the cochlea may break or become bent, and nerve cells may degenerate. When the nerve cells or the hairs are damaged or missing, electrical signals aren't transmitted as efficiently, and hearing loss occurs. Higher pitched tones may become muffled to you. It may become difficult for you to pick out words against background noise.

Ear infection and abnormal bone growths or tumors of the outer or middle ear can cause hearing loss. A ruptured eardrum also may result in loss of hearing.

Risk factors

Factors that may damage or lead to loss of the hairs and nerve cells in your inner ear include:

  • Aging. The normal wear and tear from sounds over the years can damage the cells of your inner ear.

  • Loud noises. Occupational noise, such as from construction or factory work, and recreational noise, such as from loud music, the engine of a snowmobile or motorcycle, or shooting firearms, can contribute to the damage inside your ear.

  • Heredity. Your genetic makeup may make you more susceptible to ear damage.

  • Some medications. Drugs such as the antibiotic gentamicin can damage the inner ear. Temporary effects on your hearing — ringing in the ear or hearing loss — can occur if you take very high doses of aspirin.

  • Some illnesses. Diseases or illnesses that result in high fever, such as meningitis, may damage the cochlea.

When to seek medical advice

Talk to your doctor if you have difficulty hearing. If you find that it's harder for you to understand everything that's said in conversation, especially when there's background noise, if sounds seem muffled, or if you find yourself having to turn the volume higher when you listen to music, the radio or television, your hearing may have deteriorated.

Hearing loss > 1 > 2 > 3 > 4

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This information is provided for general medical education purposes only and is not meant to substitute for the independent medical judgment of a physician relative to diagnostic and treatment options of a specific patient's medical condition.
In no event will The DrEddyClinic.com be liable for any decision made or action taken in reliance upon the information provided through this web site.


 

 



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