Peninsula Hearing Services is qualified to diagnose and treat hearing loss, dizziness and balance disorders. We offer advanced diagnostic testing and treatment options, regularly attend conferences and stay abreast of current trends in research to provide what we feel is the best solution(s) for those seeking assistance with their hearing and balance concerns.
Hearing loss is one of the most prevalent chronic conditions in the United States, with more than 19 million Americans age 45 and over having hearing loss. The primary impact of untreated hearing loss is social isolation, leading to a host of conditions: depression, anxiety, irritability, anger, social isolation and perhaps most destructive….loneliness. A 2013 study by researcher Dr. Frank Lin, MD, PhD at Johns Hopkins Medicine suggested that people with compromised hearing are at risk of developing cognitive deficits….problems with memory and thinking, sooner that those whose hearing is intact. A theory to this finding is that social isolation due to the hearing loss might be more of a contributor than the hearing loss itself. Dr. Lindsey Jorgensen’s research (2015) as well as the work of other investigators have cautioned these findings however, as potentially being compromised by the method for which dementia and cognitive decline are assessed….through verbal questions read out loud to the patient. It is possible that those with hearing loss simply do not hear the questions posed to them and thus score more poorly than those who hearing is normal. The jury appears to still be out as to how strong the connection is between hearing loss and cognitive decline. For now, the best advice is to screen for hearing loss more regularly and be more proactive to manage hearing loss when it is discovered.
Common Signs of Hearing Loss
If you think you or a loved one may have hearing loss, you are not alone. Oftentimes people notice signs of hearing loss but do not take the steps to get it treated right away. Typically, it takes people an average of seven years to seek treatment. You may have hearing loss if:
- You hear people speaking but you have to strain to understand their words.
- You frequently ask people to repeat what they said.
- You don’t laugh at jokes because you miss too much of the story or the punch line.
- You frequently complain that people mumble.
- You need to ask others about the details of a meeting you just attended.
- Others tell you that your TV or radio settings are louder than your friends, spouse and relatives.
- You cannot hear the doorbell or the telephone.
- You find that looking at people when they speak to you makes it easier to understand.
- You miss environmental sounds such as birds or leaves blowing.
- You find yourself avoiding certain restaurants because they are too noisy or certain people, because you cannot understand them.
- You hear a ringing sound in your ears, especially when it is quiet.
Hearing loss can be categorized by what part of the hearing system is damaged. There are three basic types of hearing loss:
- Conductive hearing loss
- Sensorineural hearing loss
- Mixed hearing loss
Conductive Hearing Loss
Conductive hearing loss occurs when sound is “mechanically” stopped or weakened from transmitting deep into the brain where the hearing nerve is. The best example is to put your fingers in your ears and compare how well you hear when your fingers are not in your ear. Your fingers are preventing the intensity or loudness of sound from being heard well. This type of hearing loss occurs in approximately 15% of those with hearing loss and is often medically or surgically corrected. Examples of conditions that may cause conductive hearing loss include:
- Impacted ear wax in the ear canal
- Ear infection from a cold or swimming
- Plugged ear sensation from a poorly ventilated ear caused by the flu or allergies
- Congenital birth defect of the ear canal or middle ear space
- Head/ear trauma that has damaged the delicate bones in the middle ear space
- Ruptured ear drum due to an ear infection or head/ear trauma
Sensorineural Hearing Loss
Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when the hearing nerve or nerve receptors in the inner ear are damaged. This type of hearing loss cannot be medically or surgically corrected and is permanent. Many know this to be referred as “nerve” hearing loss. Unlike conductive hearing loss which is mostly loss of volume or intensity of sound, sensorineural hearing loss also affects speech understanding (the ability to understood words) as well as affects filtering of sound (the ability to understand speech in noisy environments like restaurants).
Sensorineural hearing loss is primarily attributed to excessive noise exposure, aging and unlucky genetics. It is less commonly caused by medical conditions such as viruses, head trauma, tumors or disease. While medical research continues to find a cure for sensorineural hearing loss, the best treatment today is hearing devices.
Mixed Hearing Loss
In unusual cases, conductive hearing loss occurs in combination with sensorineural hearing loss. When this occurs, one seeks medical treatment for the conductive component and if the hearing is still poor, hearing aids are then prescribed.
Configuration of Hearing Loss
Besides type of hearing loss, the configuration of hearing loss refers to comprehensive hearing evaluation test results and onset of hearing loss.
The configuration or shape of the hearing loss refers to the extent of hearing loss by tone. Humans can hear a range of tones from bass sounds (eg. foghorn) to high-pitched sounds (eg. bird chirping). Generally speaking, one should hear all the tones equally. However, those with hearing loss might hear high pitched tones worse than bass tones. There are several different configurations of hearing loss. The configuration of hearing loss is important for how to program a hearing device to improve hearing.
Other descriptors associated with hearing loss are:
Bilateral versus unilateral: Bilateral hearing loss means both ears are affected. Unilateral hearing loss means only one ear is affected.
Symmetrical versus asymmetrical: Symmetrical hearing loss means that the degree and configuration of hearing loss are the same in each ear. An asymmetrical hearing loss is one in which the degree and/or configuration of the loss is different for each ear.
Progressive versus sudden hearing loss: Progressive hearing loss is a hearing loss that slowly, over many years, becomes worse over time. A sudden hearing loss is one that has a rapid onset (typically overnight and upon waking) and therefore occurs quickly, requiring immediate medical attention to determine its cause and treatment.
Fluctuating versus stable hearing loss: Some hearing losses change—sometimes getting better, sometimes getting worse. Fluctuating hearing loss is typically a symptom of conductive hearing loss caused by ear infection and middle ear fluid, but also presents in other conditions such as Meniere’s disease.