Hearing loss is common and can affect people of any age. About 16% of adults in the UK have some degree of hearing loss. It is thought that half the general population above the age of 75 have some hearing loss.
Types of Deafness:
The causes of deafness can be broadly grouped according to where in the ear they occur. A problem of transmission (or conduction) of sound waves through the ear canal and middle ear is referred to as a conductive hearing loss.
A problem with the translation of the sound waves into an electrical signal by the inner ear or the onward passage of those electrical impulses via the nerves to the brain is referred to as a sensorineural hearing loss.
Conductive Hearing Loss
Condition and Symptoms
A conductive hearing loss occurs when there is a failure of the conversion of sound waves into movements by the eardrum and the little bones of the middle ear. This can occur either because the sound waves are not reaching the eardrum.
There are a great number of causes of conductive hearing loss eg. blockage by wax, infection, a collection of fluid, trauma or fixation of the ossicles in the middle ear (which is called otosclerosis).
Fortunately, conductive hearing loss can often be treated and hearing in the infected ear can be corrected or improved.
Sensorineural Hearing Loss
Condition and Symptoms
A sensorineural hearing loss is due to a problem of the inner ear or of the nerve that carries the signal from the inner ear to the hearing centres in the brain.
Again, there are many causes, the most common being that of hearing loss in old age (presbyacusis), which usually affects both ears to a similar degree and can be associated with noises in the ear (tinnitus). Other common conditions which affect the inner ear are infections (particularly by viruses), trauma, side effects from certain medication and congenital causes. While some inner ear problems are reversible, generally speaking, the hearing loss is irreversible (ie permanent). Extremely rarely, but more seriously, the hearing loss may be due to a growth, otherwise known as a tumour, on the hearing nerve in the brain.
The main difficulty with sensorineural hearing loss is an inability to hear adequately in conversations, especially when there is background noise. Many people complain that they can hear the sounds of a conversation, but cannot discriminate exactly what is being said. It can lead to immense frustration and feelings of isolation.
Although frequent in older people, it is not uncommon for people to notice problems with speech discrimination whilst they are in their 30s or even earlier, especially if they have had regular exposure to loud noise, for example by going to night clubs.
Whilst there is no cure for a sensorineural hearing loss, Mrs Bentley can arrange to fit hearing aids which help to amplify or increase the sounds that are transmitted to the inner ear and so partially overcome the hearing loss.
The technology in hearing aids is continuing to improve and they can work very well for many people.
You should always see your doctor urgently if you have a sudden hearing loss, as sometimes treatment for sudden deafness needs to be started within 48 hours of its onset.