What is Hearing Loss?

Hearing loss is an invisible condition: we cannot see hearing loss, only its effects. The presence of hearing loss is sometimes disregarded until it reaches more severe degrees.

Click on the headings below to expand each section and find out more.

Conductive Hearing Loss

Conductive Hearing Loss (CHL) occurs when sound is not conducted efficiently through the outer ear canal to the eardrum and the middle ear ossicles.

This type of hearing loss usually involves a reduction in sound level or the ability to hear faint sounds.

CHL can be temporary or permanent and usually can be corrected medically or surgically.

CHL might be caused by several factors, such as:

  • Impacted earwax
  • Ear infections
  • TM perforation
  • Trauma to the ear
  • Stiffness in the ossicular chain (Otosclerosis)

In the presence of Conductive Hearing Loss, patient should be referred to a doctor for medical clearance prior to hearing aids fitting.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SNHL) occurs when there is damage to the inner ear (cochlea) or to the nerve pathways from the inner ear (retrocochlear) to the brain.

This type of hearing loss usually involves not only a reduction in sound level or ability to hear faint sounds, but also affects speech understanding or ability to hear clearly.

Sensorineural hearing loss is the most common type of permanent and irreversible hearing loss.

So far, it cannot be medically or surgically corrected.

Mixed Hearing Loss

Mixed Hearing Loss occurs when a conductive hearing loss is combined with a sensorineural hearing loss.

Meaning that there may be damage in the outer or middle ear and in the inner ear (cochlea) or auditory nerve (retrocochlear).

There are several possible causes of hearing loss. HL can be congenital or acquired.

Congenital HL means that HL is present at birth. It can be caused by genetic (hereditary) or non-genetic (acquired) factors.

Acquired HL means that the HL develops after birth. Hearing loss can occur at any time in life, resulting from an illness or injury.

We will briefly describe the most common causes of acquired hearing loss in adults:

Age-related hearing loss

Age related hearing loss is the major cause of acquired HL in adults. Aging contributes substantially to damage and deterioration of the peripheral and central auditory system.

Age-related HL most often occurs in both ears, affecting them equally. People with age-related HL may not realize that they have lost some of their ability to hear until it reaches a noticeable degree, because the loss occurs gradually.

Noise Induced Hearing Loss

NIHL can be caused by a one-time exposure to an intense “impulse” sound, such as an explosion, or by continuous exposure to loud sounds over an extended period of time, such as machines noise in a construction site.

Recreational activities such as target shooting and hunting, listening to MP3 players at high volume through earbuds or headphones, playing in a band, and attending loud concerts are also a source of risk for NIHL. Even at home we might be exposed to harmful noises coming from sources such as vacuum cleaners and blenders.

Exposure to high levels of noise is the most common cause of hearing loss in adults but age related hearing loss which is potentiated by noise has the highest prevalence in older adults.

Ototoxic medications

More than 200 medications in the market today are known to be ototoxic. These drugs might cause damage to the hair cells in the inner ear resulting in HL, ringing in the ear or balance disorders.

Include medicines used to treat serious infections, cancer and heart disease. Hearing and balance problems caused by these drugs can sometimes be reversed when the drug therapy is discontinued.

Sometimes the damage is permanent.

Between “hearing well” and “hearing nothing” lies a wide range of different degrees of hearing loss . Experts distinguish between mild, moderate, severe and profound hearing loss.

  • Individuals with mild Hearing Loss  may have no difficulty hearing in quiet one-to-one situations, but might have problems when joining group conversations, especially if background noise is present or if the sound comes from a distant source.
  • A person with a moderate Hearing Loss might be able to hear a normal conversation but perceives it as very faint and will have difficulty understanding speech sounds at distances greater than one meter. Their hearing ability in open spaces is limited and high-frequency sounds, such as /s/, /f/, /p/, /t/ and /k/ may be difficult to detect.
  • For an individual with severe Hearing Loss, it might be difficult to hear a normal speaking voice even at a very close range. The speech sounds will not be clear, though they may understand vowel sounds if they are loud enough.
  • If a profound Hearing Loss is present, the individual may have no awareness of loud sounds in their immediate environment, and will not be able to hear normal speaking voices. Hearing aids might be able to help them to a certain extent, but they will need to heavily rely on lip reading, visual cues, or sign language.

Hearing loss is sometimes sudden, but often it’s gradual and you may not notice it at first. If you experience these warning signs repeatedly or in combination, they may indicate a hearing loss.

1. People seem to mumble or speak too softly to me

2. You often ask people to repeat themselves

3. Your family complains that you play the radio or TV too loudly

4. You no longer hear normal household sounds, such as the dripping of a faucet or the ringing of a doorbell

5. You have difficulty understanding a conversation when in a large group or crowd

6. You have trouble understanding all the words in a conversation

7. You find telephone conversation increasingly difficult

8. You have trouble hearing when your back is turned to the speaker

9. You have been told you speak too loudly

10. You experience ringing in your ears

In some cases, you may recognise signs of hearing loss in someone else before they notice it themselves. Research suggests it takes 10 years from the time someone notices they have hearing loss, before they do anything about it.

What is the next step?

Several research studies have suggested that hearing impairment can have significant psychosocial effects, causing a detrimental impact on the individual’s quality of life. If left untreated it can give rise to isolation, reduced social activity, a feeling of being excluded and increased symptoms of depression. There is also some evidence of correlation between hearing loss and loss of cognitive functions.

If you feel that you or your loved one might have hearing loss, the sooner you seek help, the sooner you might put an end to the negative impact that hearing loss has in your overall quality of life.

The first step is to consult an Audiologist and have a hearing assessment done. Our Audiologist will then explain you the result of your hearing assessment and guide you through the solutions available, depending on your personal needs, preferences, and lifestyle.