What Are The Major Signs of Hearing Loss?
The World Health Organisation estimates that by 2050 over 700 million people will have disabling hearing loss.
Currently, there are one in six people suffering from hearing loss in Australia, and that number is continuing to increase.
With the increasing number of people with hearing loss, it’s essential you know the signs to look out for and get your hearing tested as soon as possible.
So, what are the types of hearing loss, what are the signs to look out for, and what can you do to prevent or manage your hearing loss?
Types of Hearing Loss
This type of hearing loss occurs when there is a problem in the ear canal or middle ear.
Middle ear problems can happen when the Eustachian tube gets blocked, causing pressure build-up in the middle ear. Although this happens to everyone after having a cold, your hearing should recover within a few weeks.
However, this problem can continue causing a build-up of infected fluid in the middle ear. This is a common condition in children under five years of age and is seen less frequently in adults.
This type of hearing loss is usually treated with medication or surgery.
This type of hearing loss is caused by a defect in the cochlear, hearing nerve or brain. Age and noise-induced hearing loss are examples of sensorineural hearing loss affecting the cochlear.
Sensorineural hearing loss can also be due to a benign growth or stroke affecting the hearing nerve or brain pathways. It can be sudden, so it’s important to have a comprehensive hearing test annually.
Progressive/age-related hearing loss
As we age, our hearing slowly deteriorates. We lose the ability to hear the high tones first, such as “s” and “t”. This high-tone loss means that although speech is loud enough to hear, it’s no longer clear.
Over time, the mid and low-pitched tones are also affected.
Age-related hearing loss (presbycusis) can start as early as 40 years of age, and over half of people aged 75 have presbycusis.
Noise exposure can also cause high-tone hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing in the ears). As these changes happen gradually, the hearing loss can go unnoticed for many years.
Signs of Hearing Loss
1. Asking people to repeat themselves
For many, this is simply a concentration issue. But for some individuals, it can be the first sign of hearing loss.
Asking someone to repeat themselves is expected if the person has an accent or is not facing you, but to request multiple repeats from a familiar conversation partner in a quiet environment can be a warning sign of hearing loss.
2. Speech sounding unclear
As we age or are exposed to occupational or recreational noise, our high-frequency hearing loss deteriorates before our low-frequency hearing.
High-frequency speech sounds relay information about clarity. So, if you have a high-frequency hearing loss, you may report that it sounds as though someone is mumbling when it could just be highlighting your reduced hearing acuity.
3. Difficulty hearing in noisy environments
The ability to hear speech in the presence of background noise is regularly listed by patients as the most frustrating listening environment.
As the level of ambient noise increases, it masks out low-frequency thresholds, meaning that a patient with presbycusis, where hearing is best in the low frequencies, will struggle more than those with normal hearing.
4. Avoiding social gatherings
Another major sign of hearing loss is your desire to withdraw from social gatherings you previously actively attended.
One explanation for this withdrawal might be that those with hearing loss need to exert more energy to concentrate and follow conversations.
If your hearing loss is not diagnosed, you might feel embarrassed or anxious about asking people to repeat themselves.
Avoiding social situations may also lead to social isolation, which can have detrimental impacts on your mental health and wellbeing, and potentially increase the risk of dementia.
5. Requesting the TV volume be turned up
Another major sign of hearing loss is the request for higher volume when watching TV with your spouse or family, or when others complain that the volume you find acceptable is too loud for them.
As sound travels through the air from your TV speakers to your ears, the signal degrades. This degradation of signal, coupled with hearing loss, indicates a need for more volume.
If you still find it difficult to follow speech on the TV with increased volume, it almost always indicates that you have a hearing loss in the higher frequencies.
6. Feeling tired
Following conversations can be exhausting for many people, but add hearing loss into the equation, and it becomes significantly more challenging.
Listening effort, or cognitive fatigue, is best described as allocating cognitive processes toward auditory tasks, such as detecting, decoding, processing and responding to speech. This means that our brain plays a vital role in our ability to hear.
When your hearing deteriorates, your auditory system loses the ability to translate specific frequencies, causing the brain to work harder to process incoming information. The extra effort then causes you to feel tired.
7. Speaking loudly
Loud speech can be a sign of hearing loss. While it’s more common in children, it stems from your ability to monitor your own voice as your hearing changes.
Hearing changes are usually temporary in children due to fluid or infection in the middle ear, so the child speaks louder to overcome the hearing loss and hear themselves talk.
The same can be said of adults, except that the hearing changes tend to be permanent.
Risk Factors of Hearing Loss
Audiologists are aware of the links between many common medical conditions and hearing loss. The medical conditions include
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
Noise exposure, smoking, being overweight, and some essential medications also increase the risk of hearing loss.
If you think you may be in a high-risk group, book an appointment with your doctor or audiologist.
What Should You Do if You Think You Have Hearing Loss?
If you are concerned about your hearing, book a comprehensive hearing test where one of our accredited audiologists will determine the extent of any hearing loss and the underlying cause.
Your audiologist will also tell you if medical intervention is needed and provide advice on hearing aids.
For more information on the different types of hearing loss or hearing aids, contact your nearest Attune Hearing clinic on 1300 736 702.