According to The Hearing Loss Association of America, loss of hearing will affect nearly 20% of Americans in their lifetime. Some are born with hearing impairment or deafness, while most develop it gradually over time. Hearing loss can range from mild to severe. Mild cases tend to have a degree of trouble hearing noises that are quiet or far away, as well as trouble following conversation. Severe hearing loss can mean that most sounds are difficult to hear or they are completely deaf. The good news is, medical and research advancements have developed treatments, equipment, and procedures that can make living with hearing loss easier for those affected and those around them.
Causes of Hearing Loss
Hearing loss can be caused by a number of things from birth defects to accidents. While the causes may be varied, the lives of those with hearing loss are often similarly challenging.
- Birth Defects: A child born with hearing loss or deafness could be the result of a few different causes. A common cause for congenital hearing loss is illness during pregnancy. Illness such as Rubella, Syphilis, or Herpes during prenatal development can lead to the child having developmental difficulties. There is also a genetic component to hearing loss. Genetic factors, such as hearing impairment in parents or genetic mutations, are thought to be the cause of almost half of births with congenital hearing loss.
- Smoking: Smoking has long been known to have negative effects on us physiologically. This should make its negative effect on hearing come as no surprise. Excessive and long-term smoking has been linked to the development and deterioration of hearing loss.
- Ototoxic Drugs: Ototoxic refers to drugs that can cause hearing loss. These drugs can cause damage to the hair cells in the inner ear, causing or increasing hearing loss. Since it usually requires an accumulation of the drug in the body to become Ototoxic, long term treatments are more likely to have this negative result. High doses and long term use of common drugs, such as antibiotics and painkillers, can turn Ototoxic, as well as more serious drugs, like cancer fighters and chemotherapy.
- Injury: Work related or accidental injuries are a common cause of hearing loss. Jobs that require constant, long term exposure to extremely loud noise can cause damage to the inner ear. This can lead to gradual loss as time goes on. More immediate hearing loss can be caused by brain and skull injuries or injuries to the eardrum.
- Illness: In addition to the drugs used to treat some illnesses, the sickness itself can be the cause of hearing loss. Viral infections or illnesses that cause an extremely high fever have been found to cause hearing impairment in some cases.
- Ageing: The most common cause of hearing loss is simple aging. As we age, our bodies begin to break down. As our vision, bone density, and mental acuity begin to deteriorate, hearing usually declines with them.
- Obstruction: While it doesn’t cause lifelong hearing loss, obstructions can be a cause of sudden hearing changes. Bodily obstructions, like wax build up or fluid caused by illness, can greatly impair hearing until they are removed or drained. Other examples are ear bone dislocation or growth of abnormal tumors.
The effects of hearing loss can be life altering and difficult. Trouble connecting to the environment and people around, coupled with the physical abnormalities can lead to many different issues.
- The most common symptom is obviously issues with understanding and in-taking sound. Trouble hearing voices, the television or radio, beeping or timers, and many other sounds are typical issues those with hearing loss face.
- Some hearing issues can cause changes in the inner ear fluid, that throw off the body’s equilibrium. These issues can lead to injuries related to falls and imbalance.
- Since keeping up with speech can require considerable effort, exhaustion is a common occurrence.
- Many with hearing loss avoid social situations where they will be required to engage in conversation. Keeping up with the flow of conversation with multiple people and phone calls are situations that can be extremely difficult for those who are hearing impaired.
- Isolation is a common symptom of hearing loss. With the inability to communicate easily, many hearing impaired feel like they are left on the outside of social situations.
- The social and physical symptoms of hearing loss often contribute to the psychological effects. The development of depression can be linked to the social isolation common in those with hearing impairment.
As hearing loss has become more common and research on the subject has advanced, many helpful treatments have been created for the hearing impaired.
- Screening for Hearing Loss: This first step in treating any disease, is diagnosis. Determining the type and severity of hearing loss helps doctors know how best to treat each case. In adults, hearing screenings usually include a physical exam on the inner ear and an auditory test. Babies and small children are usually conducted in visual/ auditory tests, where the child is supposed to respond to certain sounds.
- Hearing Devices:
- Hearing aids are small devices worn on the ear that amplify the sounds coming in. Some types are worn on the outer ear and some are inner ear aids.
- Cochlear Implants are a newer form of treatment. Unlike hearing aids, they do not simply amplify the sounds coming into the ear. This treatment allows sound to bystep the dysfunctioning part of the inner ear and sends signals to the brain in its place. There is a surgical procedure to insert the implant into the cochlea and place a receptor under the skin to receive the sound signals.
- Bone-anchored hearing aids are a type of aid that is attached directly to the skill. Instead of helping the ear to hear sound, this device uses conduction in the bone to take in sound and transmit it straight to the inner ear.
- Depending on the cause of hearing loss, some types of surgery can help improve the impairment. If hearing loss is caused by an abnormality or growth in the ear, surgical removal can be an option.
- An Audiologist is a doctor specifically trained to treat problems with hearing and balance. They can determine if your hearing problems are treatable and what steps might best help you.
- Otolaryngologists are doctors of the ear, nose, and throat. If hearing issues are related to a physical abnormality or damage to inner ear hairs, this type of doctor might be best to help treat issues.
- Speech pathologists can help with communication issues related to hearing loss. They can help treat barriers with spoken word, as well as better understanding and following conversation with others.
Counseling for Hearing Loss
Whether someone was born with hearing impairment or it developed later in life, loss of hearing can lead to struggles for the affected and those related to them. Complex emotions can arise due to frustration, isolation, and depression.
- Personal Counseling: To better navigate the emotions and frustrations that come with hearing loss, a mental health counselor might be able to provide useful insight and suggestions. Especially to those who experience hearing loss later in life, transitioning from the hearing world towards the non-hearing word can be fraught with struggle. A personal counselor will be able to give advice and coping mechanisms to make the transition and living more manageable.
- Family Counseling: Hearing loss doesn’t just affect the hearing impaired. There is also a profound impact on the family and friends of those affected. When a child is born with hearing issues, family members just learn to accommodate a situation they may not be familiar with. If a loved one loses hearing later in life, the family and friends might have to grieve the loss of the hearing person they knew and get to know the new person they have become. Family counseling can help the entire unit learn to better thrive with the hearing impaired.
- Group Therapy: Group therapy is a therapy session with a few people with similar issues, as opposed to one-on-one with a counselor. Group therapy can be extremely effective in helping those struggling with social isolation and loneliness. The group setting helps the hearing impaired find a community and support system of people going through the sam struggles.
Noise related hearing loss is extremely common. A lifetime of loud noises is what can lead to the deterioration of hearing as we age. Prevention practices might be able to completely stave off hearing loss, but it can help to maintain your ear health and lessen the effects of noise.
- Environmental Awareness: In our busy society, we are bombarded with noise constantly. Being aware of the sounds around you can make a difference in how that noise impacts you. If you are sitting in a cafe, try to sit in a quiet place, away from music speakers and loud conversation. If you are driving, be aware of how loud you turn the speakers.
- Preparation: Being prepared can save your ears in a number of situations. If you work in a loud environment, invest in a good pair of earplugs and make sure you take breaks in a quiet place. If you know you are going to a rock concert, make sure to bring ear protection with you.
- Avoid medications that could affect your hearing if possible. While some medications may be unavoidable due to medical needs, try to find alternatives to ototoxic drugs when they are available.
Living with Hearing Loss
It comes with its challenges, but living with hearing loss can be just as fulfilling as living without it. With advances and awareness, those with hearing loss are able to be more integrated and accepted into life and society than ever before.
- Sign Language is the single greatest development for life in the hearing impaired. Sign language is an entire communication system developed with hand movements and facial expressions instead of spoken word. Without the burden and stress of attempting to lipread or communicate verbally, sign language gives the hearing impaired the ability to have a conversation without the hearing barrier. This language development had allowed more hearing impaired to get jobs and engage in activities they have never been able to before.
- Employment Resources:Under the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the hearing impaired can no longer be discriminated against for employment due to their hearing loss. This opened many doors in the workforce for those who were previously unable to find employment.
- Community Support:
- Since hearing loss has grown in prevalence over time, many have begun to invest in helping those with impairment. Many charities have been organized to help fund research on hearing loss and to help raise money for those who cannot afford treatment or equipment.
- Sign language is now offered as a foreign language in schools. High school and college students are required to take a foreign language. While the options used to be mostly limited to Spanish and French, sign language has now become a more common option in schools. This change is creating a large base of people who can communicate through sign language to those who are hearing impaired.
- Subtitles and Closed Captioning: Television had always been a barrier to those with hearing loss do to its partial auditory nature. Some can turn the sound extremely loud, but others with more severe loss were left unable to enjoy the speech of tv and movies. With the development and prevalence of subtitles for movies and closed captioning for live tv, the hearing impaired have become able included in an aspect they were left out of before.
- Awareness: One of the most important aspects of living with hearing loss is including the hearing into the non-hearing world. Many social barriers between the two groups are caused by a lack of comfortability and awareness. Explain to new people are groups that living with hearing loss is different, but it can be normal once you get used to it. Let others know how best to interact with you, so they don’t feel lost trying to communicate.
Interacting with the Hearing Impaired
For those in the hearing world, it can feel daunting to try and communicate with those with hearing loss. While sign language is the easiest method of speaking, there are many ways to improve communication and connection to the hearing impaired.
- Face the person you are speaking to. Without sign language, most hearing impaired can understand a good bit of conversation through lip reading. By facing the person, they can better see the movement of your mouth and will be sure you are speaking to them.
- Avoid distractions when speaking. Lipreading takes focus, and distractions can cause the hearing impaired to miss words or sentences. Keep your hands or objects away from your mouth and try to keep still while speaking.
- Speak loudly and clearly. The hearing impaired are relying on a combination of hearing and lip reading. Speak up and try not to mumble. Do not shout, as it tends to change the way word movements look.
- Speak at a normal pace. If you speak too quickly, the hearing impaired will have trouble keeping up. If you speak too slowly, you might be warping the natural movements and sounds of words. Lip readers are used to reading the normal patterns of speech, so try not to deviate.
- Write down information when possible. When relaying information on dates or time, show on a clock or calendar. When giving instructions, try writing down each step, so the hearing impaired can refer back to the directions. Showing and writing information can help avoid confusion and misinformation when communicating.
Living with hearing loss, whether from birth or developed, requires the learning of a special way of life. Communication can be a challenge and it can feel isolating. Reaching out to the people closest and finding a support group can help gain a feeling a connection and teach the hearing world how to better interact with the hearing impaired.
This is the official website of the Hearing Loss Association of America. It is a helpful, full service resource to answer a variety of questions about hearing loss.
This resource gives insight into living with hearing loss through a more personal, anecdotal approach.
This is an effective resource for helping the family members or friends of those with hearing loss better understand the non-hearing world in a real way.
Centered around children born with deafness and hearing impairment, this resource helps understand the development and learning ability differences in hearing loss children.
Age related hearing loss comes with many different challenges than hearing loss early in life. This resource helps understand the differences and explain age related hearing loss.
This information from the Mayo Clinic helps inform about the symptoms and causes of hearing loss
From the Cleveland Clinic, this article informs readers about how hearing loss can happen in some cases, and effective ways to help protect and prevent from hearing loss.
Many of the challenges that come with hearing loss can lead to emotional distress. This article details the counseling options available to support those with hearing loss.
UCSF Health uses this article to go through the various treatments developed to help those with hearing loss.
When you’re ready to seek help for hearing loss, it can be hard to know where to turn. This article by the National Institute on Deafness can help understand the types of doctors who can treat hearing loss.