Hearing loss is when a person doesn’t have normal hearing, but still can perceive some noise or vibration. The standard for hearing loss is a loss of more than twenty decibels. Although hearing loss usually does not affect life expectancy, it often forms a serious restriction on the quality of life.
Possible causes of hearing loss are:
- In children: preeclampsia, virus infections, problems around childbirth (especially oxygen shortage), encephalitis or meningitis, otitis media or glue ears.
- In adults: noise pollution, otosclerosis, Ménière’s disease, accident or poisoning.
- In the elderly: reduced ability to transfer nerve impulses to the brain. This form of hearing loss often starts around the age of twenty, but in most cases leads to discernable hearing problems only years later. Hearing loss is a common age symptom.
In addition, hereditary factors also play a role in the development of hearing disorders.
The signs and symptoms of hearing loss are:
- It becomes difficult to follow a conversation. The person does hear someone talking, but it isn’t clear what he or she says. It's difficult to understand another person, especially in noisy environments.
- One may hear better with one ear than with the other ear.
- Soft sounds are difficult to hear, but loud noises might be just very annoying.
- It’s also possible to hear ‘background noise’, such as squeaking, rustling or humming. Hearing loss can be accompanied by tinnitus.
- It can be difficult to detect from which angle a sound comes. This can even be dangerous, for example in traffic.
- Hearing loss can have a major impact on work or school. Working or studying can be more tiring, because listening requires more effort and concentration. Maybe things go wrong because a person cannot hear properly. Hearing loss can therefore also cause stress and irritation.
- Because a person can follow conversations less well, one would perhaps rather not go to meetings or parties. Thus, he or she sometimes feels lonely, anxious or sad.
Hearing loss is often determined by a hearing test in an audiological center. The examiner lets the patient hear sounds and tones via headphones and assesses what he or she can and cannot hear. The results are graphically shown in an audiogram. During this study, bone conduction is also investigated. It is important to identifiy hearing problems in children as early as possible, as this can have far-reaching consequences for their development. Speech disorders in a child may also indicate hearing problems.
Depending on the nature and severity of the hearing loss, several treatments are possible:
- If there is an earwax plug in the ear, the doctor may syringe out the ear. Generally, ears will clean on their own.
- A hole in the eardrum usually restores by itself. If not, the doctor can restore the eardrum by surgery. The doctor can often restore damage to the ossicles by surgery as well. But this is quite a difficult operation.
- In children with a conduction disorder, sound is not properly guided through the ear canal, for example due to moisture or an infection in the ear. Grommets (ventilation tubes) can be applied, thus improving hearing.
- Hearing loss due to aging doesn’t recover. A hearing device can improve quality of life. Properly handling a hearing device requires perseverance and skills.
- In patients with a severe form of sensorineural hearing loss, a cochlear implant can be applied by means of an operation. This is an internal device that directly passes the audio signals on to the auditory nerve.
Recovery of hearing can be a matter of days or weeks. Some people suffer from permanent mild to severe hearing loss. When hearing loss is treated at an early stage, the prospects are good, but if the disease is already in an advanced stage, the prospects are less favorable. In old age, hearing loss is a natural phenomenon.
- People can prevent noise deafness and reduce further hearing damage by protecting the ears from noise by using earplugs or earmuffs.
- Watch out carefully in traffic when crossing the street, cycling or driving a car.
- Some people feel ashamed for their hearing loss, but hearing loss is very common. And people in the environment usually do understand. Don’t try to hide poor hearing. It’s important that they know. Most people, family, friends and colleagues will gladly take this into account.