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Frequently Asked Questions about Hearing & Hearing Loss

How common is hearing loss?

Approximately 17 percent, or 36 million, of American adults say that they have some degree of hearing loss. Hearing loss is a common condition in older adults. Roughly one-third of Americans 65 to 74 years of age and 47 percent of those 75 and older have hearing loss.

Is hearing loss hereditary?

Some forms of hearing loss can be inherited; however, not all inherited forms of hearing loss take place at birth. Some forms can show up later in life. In otosclerosis, which is thought to be a hereditary disease, an abnormal growth of bone prevents structures within the ear from working properly.

What role does noise play in hearing loss?

One of the most common causes of hearing loss is noise. Loud noise can permanently damage the inner ear. Loud noise also contributes to tinnitus, which is a ringing, roaring, clicking, hissing, or buzzing sound in the ears. Older adults often have hearing loss and tinnitus from a combination of both noise and age.

The intensity, or loudness, of a sound is measured in units called decibels, or dB. An ordinary conversation is approximately 60 dB; city traffic noise can reach 85 dB; and a firecracker can reach an ear-piercing 150 dB. Loud noises at or above 85 dB can permanently damage the inner ear.

What can I do to protect my hearing from loud noise?

Noise-induced hearing loss is 100 percent preventable. Potential damage from noise is caused by the loudness of the sound and the amount of time you are exposed to it. You can protect your hearing by avoiding noises at or above 85 decibels in loudness, which can damage your inner ear. These include lawnmowers, snow blowers, motorcycles, firecrackers, and loud music.

Reduce the sound if you can, or wear ear protection if you cannot. For example, lower the volume on personal stereo systems and televisions. If you cannot get away from or reduce noise, wear earplugs or other hearing protective devices. Be sure to protect children’s ears as well.

Can medication cause hearing problems?

Some medications cause irreversible damage to the ear, and they are limited in their use for this reason. The most important group is the aminoglycosides (main member gentamicin) and platinum based chemotherapeutics such as cisplatin.

Some medications may reversibly affect hearing. This includes some diuretics, aspirin and NSAIDs, and macrolide antibiotics. According to a study by researchers at Brigham and Woman’s Hospital in Boston, the link between nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and hearing loss tends to be greater in women, especially those who take ibuprofen six or more times a week. Others may cause permanent hearing loss. On October 18, 2007, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that a warning about possible sudden hearing loss would be added to drug labels of PDE5 inhibitors, which are used for erectile dysfunction.

If you take medication, ask your doctor if your medication is ototoxic, or potentially damaging to the ear. Ask if other medications can be used instead. If not, ask if the dosage can be safely reduced.

What other factors play a role in hearing loss?

In addition to medications, hearing loss can also result from specific drugs; metals, such as lead; solvents, such as toluene (found in crude oil, gasoline and automobile exhaust); and asphyxiants. Combined with noise, these ototoxic chemicals have an additive effect on a person’s hearing loss.

Hearing loss due to chemicals starts in the high frequency range and is irreversible. It damages the cochlea with lesions and degrades central portions of the auditory system. For some ototoxic chemical exposures, particularly styrene, the risk of hearing loss can be higher than being exposed to noise alone. Controlling noise and using hearing protectors are insufficient for preventing hearing loss from these chemicals. However, taking antioxidants helps prevent ototoxic hearing loss, at least to a degree

Other factors include:

  • Ear infections
  • Blood vessel diseases
  • Auto-immune diseases
  • Infections such as meningitis, mumps, scarlet fever and measles
  • Traumatic injuries
  • Meniere’s disease
  • Acoustic neuroma or other cancerous growths in the inner ear

How do I know if I have a hearing loss?

Hearing loss can occur at any time in life. This can due from aging, extreme exposure to loud noises, medications, infections, head and/or ear trauma, hereditary factors, disease, etc.

Ask yourself the following questions. If you answer “yes” to three or more of these questions, you could have a hearing problem and may need to have your hearing checked by a doctor or other hearing professional.

  • Do I have a problem hearing on the telephone?
  • Do I have trouble hearing when there is noise in the background?
  • Is it hard for me to follow a conversation when two or more people talk at once?
  • Do I have to strain to understand a conversation?
  • Do many people I talk to seem to mumble or not speak clearly?
  • Do I misunderstand what others are saying and respond inappropriately?
  • Do I often ask people to repeat themselves?
  • Do I have trouble understanding women and children when they talk?
  • Do people complain that I turn the TV volume up too high?
  • Do I hear a ringing, roaring, clicking, hissing, or buzzing sound a lot?
  • Do some sounds seem too loud?

Doesn’t hearing loss only affect older folks?

Hearing loss can occur at any time, at any age. In fact, most people with hearing loss (65%) are younger than age 65! There are six million people in the U.S. ages 18-44 with hearing loss, and around one-and-a-half million are school age.

If I had hearing loss, wouldn’t my doctor have told me?

Not necessarily. Only about 13% of physicians routinely screen for hearing loss. Since most people with hearing impairments hear just fine in quiet environments (like your doctor’s office), it can be very difficult for your physician to recognize this problem. Only a trained hearing professional can determine the severity of your hearing problem, whether or not you could benefit from a hearing aid, and which type would be best for you.

What types of hearing changes are most common in older adults?

Presbycusis, or age-related hearing loss, is the cumulative effect of aging on hearing. It is a progressive age-related sensorineural hearing loss that is most marked at higher frequencies. Presbycusis comes on gradually as a person ages and mostly affects people over 50. Doctors do not fully understand why presbycusis happens, but it seems to run in families. Presbycusis may make it hard for a person to tolerate loud sounds or to hear what others are saying. This type of hearing loss involves damage to the inner ear and is permanent.

Tinnitus, also common in older people, is the ringing, roaring, clicking, hissing, or buzzing sound in the ears frequently caused by presbycusis, exposure to loud noise or certain medications. Tinnitus can accompany any type of hearing loss. It also can be a sign of other important health problems, too, such as allergies and problems in the heart and blood vessels. Tinnitus may come and go, or stop altogether.

What impact can hearing loss have on an older person’s life?

People with hearing loss have trouble fully participating in everyday life. They may mistake words in a conversation, miss directions or warnings, or leave a ringing doorbell unanswered. Older people who can’t hear well may become depressed or withdraw from others to avoid feeling frustrated or embarrassed about not understanding what is being said.

They may become suspicious of relatives or friends who they believe “mumble” or “don’t speak up” on purpose. Hearing loss isolates older people and may even put them in harm’s way if they are unable to respond to warnings or hear sounds of impending danger.

Sometimes older people are mistakenly thought to be confused, unresponsive, or uncooperative just because they don’t hear well.

What about the complaints I have heard about hearing aids?

It is true that there are several concerns sometimes mentioned by hearing aid users. Here are three of the most common:

1. My own voice sounds strange.
Hearing aids amplify some or all sounds. This includes the sound of your own voice. With time and use, this should become less noticeable, but if this bothers you, see a Sound Relief Hearing professional who can address this problem.

2. I have a problem with whistling sounds or feedback.
There are several common causes of this problem, all of which are easily solved. First, your hearing aid may fit too loosely. This allows the amplified sound to escape from your ear which is received by the microphone, thus resulting in feedback. Second, some feedback happens when you are standing too close to a surface that reflects sound, such as a wall. Finally, many feedback problems are simply the result of a hearing aid’s volume control being turned up too high. Most feedback problems can be easily remedied by the user. However, if you continue to have a consistent problem with feedback, take your hearing aids to your hearing professional.

3. I feel pressure in my ear.
Sometimes, excess air can become trapped between your eardrum and the hearing aid. If this feeling persists, your hearing professional can alter your hearing aid to alleviate the problem.

What is an audiologist?

Audiologists are health-care professionals specializing in identifying, diagnosing, treating, and monitoring disorders of the auditory and vestibular system portions of the ear. They are trained to diagnose, manage and/or treat tinnitus, hyperacusis, hearing, or balance problems. They dispense, manage, and rehabilitate hearing device users and assess candidacy and map cochlear implants.

Audiologists have training in anatomy and physiology, hearing aids, cochlear implants, electrophysiology, acoustics, psychophysics, neurology, vestibular function and assessment, balance disorders, counseling and sign language. An Audiologist usually graduates with one of the following qualifications (Au.D., STI, PhD, or ScD), depending the program, and country attended.

Are the audiologists at Sound Relief M.D.s?

No. Our audiologists are all doctors of Audiology that specialize in non-surgical options for treating hearing and tinnitus. If you need an M.D., we will be able to refer you to the best one for what you need. Most people with hearing loss do not need an M.D. because it is not something that can be fixed with medication or surgery anyway.

How do I pick the best hearing aid for me?

There are several factors that will determine which hearing aid will be the right one for you. They include the nature and severity of your hearing loss, your lifestyle and the activities you regularly enjoy, your job, your eyesight and dexterity, and the size and shape of your outer ear and inner ear canal. The professional team at Sound Relief Hearing Center will guide on your road to better hearing and give you a recommendation based on your test results.

What is misophonia?

Misophonia, or hatred of sound, is characterized by intense aversion of specific “trigger” sounds, such as chewing, breathing, throat clearing or repetitive sounds like tapping a pencil or clicking a pen. Treatment options that we offer include Sound Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

What is a cochlear implant and how do I know if I need one?

If your hearing loss is severe and of a certain type, your doctor may suggest that you talk to an otolaryngologist about a cochlear implant. An otolaryngologist is a surgeon who specializes in ear, nose, and throat diseases.

A cochlear implant is a small electronic device that the surgeon places under the skin and behind the ear. The device picks up sounds, changes them to electrical signals, and sends them past the non-working part of the inner ear and on to the brain.

What are neurotologists and otolaryngologists?

Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery is a specialty devoted to the care of adult and pediatric patients with problems of the ear, nose, throat, and neck. These doctors are commonly known as ENT physicians. Training to become and otolaryngologist includes 1 year of general surgery and at least 4 years of otolaryngology training. These doctors have acquired the skills necessary to manage sinusitis, allergy, mouth and throat cancer, masses of the neck, voice and swallowing problems, trauma to the face and neck, ear infections, dizziness, hearing loss, and many other problems arising from the structures of the head and neck. After completing residency training, these doctors must take a written and oral examination to become board certified. The American Board of Otolaryngology has the role of assuring professional standards of training and knowledge.

Within this broad specialty, there are several subspecialties wherein otolaryngologists devote their practices to one or two specific areas of Otolaryngology. These subspecialties include pediatric otolaryngology (children), allergy, sinus surgery, facial plastic and reconstructive surgery, head and neck cancer surgery, laryngology (voice and swallowing), otology/neurotology, and skull base surgery. Many doctors in these subspecialties have spent 1-3 extra years of special training in addition to the general otolaryngology training. Often, research is included in the subspecialty training and these doctors become leaders in research related to the field of otolaryngology.

An otologist/neurotologist is a board-certified otolaryngologist who provides medical and surgical care of patients, both adult and pediatric, with diseases that affect the ears, balance system, temporal bone, skull base, and related structures of the head and neck. The neurotologist is knowledgeable of the basic sciences of hearing, balance, nerve function, infectious disease, and anatomy of head and neck. Their diagnostic, medical, and surgical skills include treatment of hearing loss and tinnitus, dizziness, infectious and inflammatory diseases of the ear, facial nerve disorders, congenital malformations of the ear, and tumors of the ear, hearing nerve, and skull base. As part of a team with neurosurgeons, they manage diseases and disorders of the cranial nerves and skull base.

Are hearing aid batteries dangerous?

Hearing aid batteries, like all other batteries, are extremely dangerous and toxic if swallowed. Keep all batteries away from pets and children. If a battery from a hearing aid is accidentally swallowed, contact 911 immediately.

What’s an ear mold impression?

When custom made hearing aids are made, they are made from a mold of the ear. The mold is then sent to an audiologist who makes the personally fitted hearing aid.

Learn More: How You Hear | Online Hearing Quiz | How Hearing Tests Work | Hearing Aid Styles