It is estimated that 10% of Canadians are currently suffering from some degree of hearing loss. In addition, hearing loss can affect up to 50% of those over age 65.
Hearing loss is a commonly overlooked problem; it often develops gradually and insidiously, and can lead people to develop compensatory behaviours over time that render the individual suffering from hearing loss unaware of the problem. Changes in hearing acuity can be so subtle that many people suffering from hearing loss begin to retire from their everyday life without ever realizing that they have a hearing problem at all.
The ear is a very complex organ. It is divided into three major sections: the outer, middle and inner ear. The outer ear is the part of the ear that you can see, and includes the helix, pinna, concha, earlobe, tragus and the outer ear canal. The middle ear is the portion of the ear responsible for transmitting or conducting sound to the inner ear, and is made up of the eardrum, the three ossicles (malleus, incus and stapes) and the cavity behind the eardrum connected to the Eustachian tube. Finally, the inner ear is comprised of the cochlea and the semicircular canals. The inner ear transmits the sound to the auditory nerve so that it may be interpreted by the brain.
There are many types and causes of hearing loss. The three main types of hearing loss are conductive hearing loss, sensorineural hearing loss, and mixed hearing loss.
Conductive Hearing Loss: conductive hearing loss arises when either the outer or middle ear cannot effectively transmit sound to the inner ear. Conductive hearing loss can be caused by many different factors including earwax blockage, ear infections, otitis, otosclerosis, dislocation of the ossicles, perforation of the ear drum, etc. It can oftentimes be surgically or medically treated. In cases where surgery or medical intervention is not appropriate, hearing aids can typically be used to help people suffering from conductive hearing loss.
Sensorineural Hearing Loss: sensorineural hearing loss arises when the inner ear and/or auditory nerve are affected. Sensorineural hearing loss can be linked to several different contributing factors, including prolonged and/or extreme noise exposure, genetic and congenital factors, acoustic neuromas, damage to the auditory nerve, etc. This type of hearing loss is typically permanent, and cannot usually be treated with surgery or medical intervention. In most cases, hearing aids can be used to help those suffering from sensorineural hearing loss.
Mixed Hearing Loss: mixed hearing loss arises when there is a combination of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss. Medical intervention or surgery may be helpful in treating the conductive component of the hearing loss, but cannot address the sensorineural component of the hearing loss. In the case of mixed hearing loss, a hearing aid can often be helpful to address the ongoing problems caused by the hearing loss regardless of whether or not a medical intervention occurs.
If you feel that you are having trouble hearing, it is important to schedule an appointment with your Audiologist as soon as possible. Hearing loss can occur gradually and over long periods of time; however, the longer the hearing loss is present, the longer the brain goes without stimulation of the auditory pathways. This can have a significant impact on the successful outcome of treatment plan and intervention method you and your Audiologist will choose.
If you have a sudden onset hearing loss, contact your doctor and/or Audiologist immediately. Sudden onset hearing loss can be linked to a variety of serious medical conditions, and early identification and intervention are paramount in the treatment and possible recovery of your hearing.
Remember that at Hearing Freedom, you are not just a number. Your Audiologist will be available to address any questions or concerns about your hearing you might have.
Research has shown that where a hearing loss is present in two ears, two hearing aids can often lead to a more balanced and natural sound (Katz et al, 2009, p.850). Firstly, two ears are essential in the ability to localize where sound is coming from, particularly when the source of the sound is not visible. This is due to the auditory system’s processing and integration of sound signals and binaural cues based on timing and distance (Yost, 2007); when only one ear is hearing normally, the brain is not as easily able to make use of these cues in order to identify the source of a sound.
Secondly, two ears often are more help in deciphering speech in noise. This is because the ear is very sensitive to the acoustic properties of speech, but when there is a considerable amount of background noise, these acoustic properties can be ‘masked’. Two ears have a better chance of extracting speech from noise than one alone; what one ear might miss, the other might catch.
There are some situations such as one-sided hearing loss where two hearing aids are not recommended. A complete audiological assessment and discussion with your Audiologist will be necessary in order to determine the best intervention for you.
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* This section is still under development, there will be more to come soon.