The causes, signs and symptoms of hearing loss

Oct 14, 2019
One in six Australians have some kind of hearing loss, with over-60s suffering the most debilitating cases. Source: Getty

Ageing means some not-so-great changes in your body and your ears are no different. One in six Australians have some kind of hearing loss, with over-60s suffering the most debilitating cases.

The earlier a hearing impairment can be detected, however, the more likely it can be alleviated. That’s why it’s important to look out for the signs and symptoms of hearing loss in yourself and your loved ones.

Common signs and symptoms of hearing loss

Hearing Australia says the most common signs of hearing loss include finding it hard to follow a conversation in a crowded room or restaurant, asking people to repeat themselves (if people you speak to seem, more often than not, to be mumbling, that’s a common warning sign), receiving frequent complaints about the volume at which you play the TV or radio, and missing out on everyday sounds such as alarms, microwave beeps or dings or even simple things like birdsong.

Some people with hearing loss also develop tinnitus, which is hearing noises or ringing in your ears.

Untreated hearing loss can cause a broad range of related health impacts, including poorer mental health and brain function, and, of course, relationship difficulties. That’s why it’s important to identify the problem and find a solution sooner rather than later.

The good news is you can now take hearing tests in the comfort of your home, without a specialist appointment. For example, Blamey Saunders Hears offers a free online test, which you can take straight away to put to rest any concerns about your hearing.

If you’d prefer to speak to an expert in person, you should make an appointment with your regular doctor or an audiologist.

Risk factors for hearing loss

There are several risk factors that may increase your chances of developing hearing loss, and age is one of them. Almost 60 per cent of Aussies aged between 61-70 have some form of hearing loss, and that rises to 74 per cent for people aged 71-plus.

Meanwhile, men experience higher rates of hearing loss compared to women, with most men expected to have some kind of hearing loss by the age of 65

Exposure to loud sounds and noises, such as working in a job that involves regular exposure to noisy equipment, and your genetic makeup may also make you more susceptible to hearing damage. Taking certain medications such as aspirin, antibiotics and some cancer drugs may also increase your chances of developing hearing loss.

Common causes of hearing loss

There are two main types of hearing loss. Sensorineural is hearing loss caused by damage to the inner ear, and conductive is hearing loss caused when the passage of sound is blocked.

Sensorineural hearing loss tends to be caused by one of the risk factors above, such as ageing, exposure to loud noises, diseases such as meningitis and certain medications. Conductive hearing loss, meanwhile can be caused by a damaged ear drum, outer or middle ear infections or impacted earwax.

Meanwhile, it’s believed that your hearing may worsen due to the gradual loss of hair cells and stiffening of membranes in the cochlea (inner ear). It only takes seven and a half minutes standing near a loudspeaker at a concert to damage the hair cells in your ears. Even a single blast of very loud noise can hurt those hair cells. This kind of damage leads to noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), which is irreversible because damaged hair cells don’t grow back.

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