Adult onset hearing loss is a common concern. A person with hearing loss may not notice the problem early on, however their family and friends often will. They will sometimes complain about the TV or radio being too loud, the person not listening and there may be communication problems.
Hearing loss in adults can be accompanied by ringing or buzzing sounds in the ear called tinnitus. There is usually not any pain. The loss is most often noticed in noisy environments such as restaurants where the loss of hearing makes it difficult to ‘filter out’ other sounds and concentrate on speech.
The consequences of adult onset hearing loss can be significant. People may have trouble with their important relationships, the ability to work can be compromised, as can safety in the home and the outside world. Failing to hear a smoke alarm or oncoming vehicle can lead to dire consequences. Some people become quite depressed and withdraw from social interactions. It is not something to be taken lightly and there is often something that can be done.
Sudden onset of hearing loss in an adult or child is considered an “Ear Emergency” and requires assessment and treatment as soon as possible. There may be interventions early on that can improve the chances of hearing recovery. These options are reduced or become less effective as time passes.
There are two basic categories of hearing loss, conductive and sensorineural.
Conductive Hearing Loss
In this type of hearing loss, the sound is not transmitted to the inner ear. Typically, there is a problem with the ear canal, ear drum or hearing bones. Among the common causes of conductive hearing loss are:
- Wax impaction in the outer ear.
- Middle ear fluid.
- Damage to hearing bones.
Sensorineural Hearing Loss
When there is a problem with the inner ear or hearing nerves, it is typically referred to as sensorineural hearing loss. Some of the causes of sensorineural hearing loss include:
- Noise exposure / Industrial Deafness.
- Aging (Presbycusis).
- Meniere’s Disease.
- Medication side effects (Some antibiotics and chemotherapy agents).
Hearing loss is usually slow to develop and as a result it can be easy to miss the early signs. Some of the common symptoms people complain of include;
- A sense of blocked ears.
- Difficulty hearing in social situations.
- Misunderstanding instructions.
- Needing to turn the Television up (causing problems for others).
- Ringing in the ears.
A simple Audiogram or hearing test will go a long way towards defining the extent and nature of any hearing loss. In some cases, a scan may be needed to further clarify the cause of the problem.
A clear history of the hearing loss and an examination of the ear helps determine the cause of the problem. Dr Morrissey can help you get to the bottom of the problem in most circumstances.
Prevention and Treatment
Dr Morrissey can help you understand the problem and its potential solutions. In some cases, the hearing loss is temporary and simple interventions can lead to improvements in hearing.
An awareness of the hearing loss can lead to simple lifestyle modifications which negate its impact. Hearing loss related to age and noise exposure is usually initially managed with hearing aids. With improvements in technology, hearing aids are becoming more effective and discrete. In those with severe hearing loss there may be surgical options available if hearing aids are ineffective.
Prevention is always better than cure, hence for those exposed to significant noise in their work or home environments, hearing protection in the form of ear plugs or headphones is usually a good idea.
Where a sudden hearing loss occurs over a period of less than 2 weeks there may be medications that can help improve the chances of recovery in some cases.