What is Hearing Loss?

Woman at Seminar

Hearing is our most critical sense when it comes to our ability to communicate, and even small degrees of hearing loss can have profound effects on how we interact and connect with others. Being separated from that ability not only has consequences for our social lives — it can have physical effects, as well, that can detract significantly from overall health.

Types of Hearing Loss
Sensorineural (nerve deafness): is a result of damage to the nerve fibers in the inner ear. Some causes include:

  • natural aging process (presbycusis)
  • prolonged exposure to loud noise
  • circulatory disease, diabetes, or stroke
  • ototoxic effects of some drugs.

Conductive: is a result of damage to the eardrum or middle ear. Some causes include:

  • wax buildup in the ear canal
  • ear infections
  • punctured or scarred ear drum
  • fixation of the middle ear bones

Social Effects of Hearing Loss
Those suffering from hearing loss often begin to notice their difficulty in the following circumstances:

  • Hearing conversations in large groups
  • Participating in conversation in restaurants or other settings with background noise
  • Hearing on the telephone
  • Understanding women’s and children’s voices

Social settings and even small family gatherings can strain hearing to the point where the additional mental effort required to decode what seems like broken speech can become tiresome. Eventually such social situations can become so difficult that those experiencing hearing loss may begin to withdraw from them altogether. Individuals instead begin to prefer less demanding, quieter settings — often away from the precious social contact that enriches our lives and draws us closer to the ones we love. The stress of living with hearing loss, too, can have its own consequences:

  • Distrust of others
  • Anger at not feeling understood
  • Feeling socially marginalized

Reluctance to seek treatment or to wear hearing aids can cause additional stress when individuals — often unconsciously — wish to conceal their hearing loss, and potentially miss out on important communications. Compromised hearing in the workplace, for instance, can have significant effects on job performance and even earning potential.

Physical Effects of Hearing Loss
Untreated hearing loss over extended periods of time can have damaging physical effects, as well, when the auditory system goes unused. Auditory deprivation, as hearing instrument practitioners refer to it, leaves nerves and portions of the brain underused, and — like other parts of the body — if the auditory system goes unused, it can begin to atrophy. Without fail, in our experience, the longer a patient waits to address their hearing loss, the more difficult it is to recover one’s ability to communicate.

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