Hearing loss is one of the most common conditions affecting older adults. One in three people older than 60 and half of those older than 85 have hearing loss. Hearing problems can make it hard to understand and follow a doctor’s advice, to respond to warnings, and to hear doorbells and alarms. They can also make it hard to enjoy talking with friends and family. All of this can be frustrating, embarrassing, and even dangerous.
The gradual hearing loss that occurs as you age (presbycusis) is a common condition. An estimated one-quarter of Americans between the ages of 65 and 75 and around three-quarters of those older than 75 have some degree of hearing loss.
Hearing aids are kind of like tiny amplifiers. They help someone hear sounds better and can even pick up the sounds so that what kids hear is more clear. Hearing aids deliver amplified sounds (via sound vibrations) from the eardrum and middle ear to the inner ear or cochlea. Hearing aid technology is available that can adjust the volume of sounds automatically.
The inner ear consists of a structure called the cochlea, which is shaped like a snail’s shell. The cochlea, which is full of fluid, contains tiny cells called hair cells. Vibrations from the ossicles pass through a small window in the cochlea, and the fluid transmits the movements to the hair cells. The movement of these hair cells generates an electrical signal that is transmitted to the brain through the auditory nerve.
The cochlea is an inner ear structure surrounded by fluid. It contains multiple small hairs. Pressure waves in the fluid cause the hairs to move. This movement stimulates the auditory nerve. Different synapse xt frequencies of noises stimulate different hairs on the cochlea, which translate to the sensation of sounds of different pitch.
There are two main types of hearing loss. One happens when your inner ear or auditory nerve is damaged. This type is permanent. The other kind happens when sound waves cannot reach your inner ear. Earwax build-up, fluid or a punctured eardrum can cause it. Untreated, hearing problems can get worse. If you have trouble hearing, you can get help. Possible treatments include hearing aids, special training, certain medicines and surgery.
The loudness of sound is measured in units called decibels. For example, the humming of a refrigerator is 40 decibels, normal conversation is approximately 60 decibels, and city traffic noise can be 85 decibels. Sources of noise that can cause NIHL include motorcycles, firecrackers, and small firearms, all emitting sounds from 120 to 150 decibels. Long or repeated exposure to sounds at or above 85 decibels can cause hearing loss. The louder the sound, the shorter the time period before NIHL can occur.
When a unilateral hearing loss is suspected, it is important to see an audiologist for a complete hearing evaluation to determine the exact degree and type of hearing loss. It is also important to see an otolaryngologist, a physician who specializes in diseases of the ear. The doctor will determine if the hearing loss is medically treatable and whether or not it is associated with any other health problems.