Although hearing loss can be thought of as a natural occurrence during the aging process, hearing loss is a significant progressive medical condition. Untreated hearing loss is correlated with increased fall risk, dementia, diabetes, and many other serious medical conditions. Hearing loss can affect people of all ages and can have many different types and causes.
There are two major types of hearing loss known as conductive hearing loss or sensorineural hearing loss. A conductive hearing loss is most often caused by a middle ear pathology that prevents sound from being sent into the inner ear hearing organ, the cochlea. A sensorineural hearing loss is caused by damaged hair cells or nerve fibers within the cochlea and auditory nerve. This is often times associated with aging, noise exposure, or genetic causes.
Hearing loss can occur gradually, making it difficult to identify, or suddenly. If a hearing loss occurs suddenly, it should be treated as a medical emergency and you should see an ear doctor right away. A gradual hearing loss can be much harder to identify as it happens slowly over time but should still be treated seriously.
Early identification and treatment are key for any type of hearing loss. As a hearing loss progresses the auditory nerve experiences lack of use and provides reduced auditory input to the brain, the auditory nerve has the potential to atrophy. When this happens it makes it difficult to understand words even when they are loud enough to be heard, oftentimes making hearing aids less effective. This can be prevented or reduced by early identification and treatment of hearing loss.
If you are over the age of 50 years old, it is recommended that you see an audiologist for an annual hearing test to monitor for possible hearing loss.