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Hearing Loss / Tinnitus

Signs of Potential Hearing Loss    

 

Most hearing loss occurs gradually, so the symptoms may be hard to recognize. You may notice yourself turning up the volume of the television or asking people to repeat themselves. As our hearing begins to fade, we tend to forget how things sound and we start to live in a quieter world. The softer sounds in our daily world may go missing, yet unnoticed. 

Do any of the following situations sound familiar?

· It seems as though people are constantly mumbling

· You ask others to repeat themselves on a regular basis

· Conversations become muddled or indecipherable in noisy environments

· Others complain that the TV volume is too loud

· It’s difficult to hear certain voices, particularly those of women or children

· You no longer hear noises like rustling leaves, footsteps, or whispers

· Music sounds less rich or full-bodied than it used to

Tinnitus: (TIN-ih-tus) is the perception of noise or ringing in the ears.  A common problem, tinnitus affects about 1 in 5 people.  Estimates of patients with tinnitus range from 10-15% of the population (30-40 million people).  Tinnitus isn’t a condition itself –it’s a symptom of an underlying condition, such as age-related hearing loss, ear injury, or a circulatory system disorder. The microscopic hairs form a fringe on the surface of each auditory cell in the cochlea.  If hairs are damaged, they may move randomly, sending electrical impulses to your brain as noise, or tinnitus.  Tinnitus can also be caused by turbulence in the carotid artery or jugular vein and temporomandibular joint problems.

Tinnitus involves the annoying sensation of hearing sound when no external sound is present.  Tinnitus symptoms include these types of phantom noises in your ears:  ringing, buzzing, roaring, clicking, and hissing.  The phantom noise may vary in pitch from a low roar to a high squeal, and you may hear it in one or both ears. In some cases, the sound can be so loud it can interfere with your ability to concentrate or hear actual sound.  Tinnitus may be present all the time, or it may come and go.

Although bothersome, tinnitus usually isn’t a sign of something serious.  Although it can worsen with age, for many people, tinnitus can improve with treatment.  Treating an identified underlying cause sometimes helps.  Other treatments reduce or mask the noise, making tinnitus less noticeable.  Manufacturers being aware of this condition have done a lot of research and put tinnitus maskers in their hearing aids.

Dementia:  Seniors with hearing loss are significantly more likely to develop dementia over time than those who retain their hearing, a study by Johns Hopkins and National Institute on Aging researchers suggests.  The finding, the researchers say, could lead to new ways to combat dementia, a condition that affects millions of people worldwide and carries heavy societal burdens.

The investigators found that if the brain doesn’t get the clarity of the words that leaves them to be more vulnerable to dementia.  They also speculate that hearing loss could lead to dementia by making individuals more socially isolated, a known risk factor for dementia and other cognitive disorders.

Different types of hearing loss

There are several types of hearing loss that we categorize as conductive, sensorineural, or mixed.

Sensorineural hearing loss is hearing loss that stems from either the hair cells of the cochlea (inner ear), the nerve that runs from the cochlea to the brain, or a combination of both. Sensorineural loss is sometimes referred to as ‘permanent’ hearing loss because there is no pill, medication, or surgery that can restore natural hearing.  Sensorineural hearing loss can be caused by many things including but not limited to: disease processes, older age, heredity, birth defect, and noise exposure.  Sensorineural hearing loss is treated by the use of hearing aids or cochlear implants.

Conductive hearing loss is hearing loss that stems from something, typically fluid, tissue, or a bony growth, that blocks or reduces the incoming sound.  The ‘blockage’ can involve the ear canal, the middle ear, the ear drum, or the bones in the middle ear.  Conductive hearing loss is often referred to as ‘temporary’ or ‘transient’ hearing loss because often (but not always) the ‘blockage’ can be treated by either the primary care physician (PCP), or a physician who specializes in ears (an ENT). They may use medication, surgery, or a combination of treatments.  Conductive hearing loss can be caused by many things including but not limited to: disease processes, heredity, birth defect, and physical trauma.  Conductive hearing losses that cannot be medically remedied are treated by either hearing aids or a bone-anchored hearing aid, often referred to as a Baha.

Learning to Hear Again 

If you have a moderate to severe hearing impairment, the auditory processing centers of the brain have been deprived of information. This is called sensory deprivation!

 

As a hearing healthcare professional with more than 14 years, I have seen a tremendous difference in how well patients hear and understand after being fitted with hearing instruments. It all depends on the length of time they have suffered from hearing loss. Those who have had an uncorrected hearing impairment of a long duration do not gain as much improvement as those who correct their hearing loss earlier. Why is this so?

If a part of the brain is deprived of sensory input, then that information is restored, (i.e. through correction of hearing loss with hearing aids), that portion of the brain that controls your processing and listening skills has to be retrained, and the longer the duration of sensory deprivation, the more important that is. In fact, there is now evidence that a loss of hearing in the ear literally produces physical changes in the brain. Simply having your hearing corrected with hearing aids can and does force the auditory portion of your brain to go back to work. However, you will do much better with some rehabilitation therapy. At Hearing Solutions, we understand this and include counseling with our patients on how to do some simple yet very effective retraining exercises as part of our fitting process.

Readout loud 15 minutes a day for a month. Add background noise after a week.

Auditory Portion of Brain