It is estimated that 48 million people in the US suffer from some degree of hearing loss and that number is only expected to rise. By 2050 many researchers believe that 1 in 10 people will have significant hearing loss. The most important thing you can do to combat the prevalence of hearing loss is to acknowledge the reality that you may either have or be at risk for hearing loss and act as soon as possible.
The Reality of Hearing Loss
While hearing loss is an issue that begins in the ears, it has far-reaching consequences for an individual’s mental and physical health. Repeated exposure to loud environments, certain medications, head trauma and old age are common causes of hearing loss. While advanced age is not a given when dealing with hearing loss, even those who take immaculate care of their hearing and avoid unexpected accidents will most likely develop hearing loss if they live long enough. By the age 100 there is a 100% percent that you will have some hearing loss.
Sensorineural Hearing loss
The most common type of hearing loss is sensorineural. While we hear with our ears, we listen with our brains. Our ears collect soundwaves and send them to our brain via tiny hair-like cells called stereocilia in our inner ears. These cells convert soundwaves into electrical impulses to be processed, not only speech but location by our brain. When stereocilia sustain damage, the sounds our brain receives become limited, first depriving our hearing of certain tones and pitches and becoming more severe as damage continues. While conductive hearing loss is caused by a blockage in the ear canal, such as an impaction of earwax or infection, it can in many cases be cleared by removing the impasse. Sensorineural hearing loss in contrast cannot be reversed. This is because science has yet to discover how to regrow the stereocilia within the inner ear making sensorineural hearing loss permanent.
Why Denial Doesn’t Work
It is estimated that on average, it takes a person 7 to 10 years from the time they suspect hearing loss to the time they seek treatment for it. Part of this is because hearing loss begins slowly, becoming worse over time. In many instances, people deny or ignore their hearing issues but this can only cause more problems down the line. When the brain struggles to fill in the gaps in words and sentences it can cause listening fatigue. This not only begins to cause consistent communication issues, adding to strains on vital relationships for mental health, but can make a simple errand more exhausting than it needs to be. It is all too common for people to develop chronic depression, anxiety and sleep issues due to communication deficits. This often causes people to avoid social situations and self-isolate, which impacts self-esteem and lack of independence. As this continues it is common for people to struggle with cognitive decline leading to a much higher risk of developing dementia in later years. Untreated hearing loss also increases risk of falls or accidents, becoming more of a risk with every ten decibels of hearing loss.
While not all aspects of hearing loss are avoidable, there are lifestyle choices and protective gear that can help reduce the risk. Surprisingly diet and exercise are key components in healthy hearing as well as avoiding excessive alcohol and smoking. Your ears rely on a healthy supply of blood to stay healthy! It is also important to wear hearing protection whenever you can predict you may be exposed to a dangerous level of noise.
The Importance of Treatment
The good news is, that while hearing loss is irreversible it is very treatable with the use of hearing aids or cochlear implants. These amazing devices will not restore your original hearing, but a trained professional can program them to amplify the specific tones and pitches you struggle with and send them directly to your ears. This can reduce the strain on relationships, improve a sense of independence and protect your mind from decline.
The important thing is to not put this off as so many do. The sooner you take the leap to treat your hearing, the more you can avoid some of the side effects of hearing loss that are irreversible. If you suspect you have even a slight hearing loss, don’t put it off another day! Make an appointment with us to have your hearing tested each year so you can catch hearing loss and treat it before it becomes a problem that affects your life permanently.