Do you hear but not always understand what is said? Do you feel like other people mumble? You may have a hearing loss, but what’s causing it and what do you do about it?
There are many contributing factors of hearing loss making it difficult to pinpoint a particular cause. Hearing loss may occur as a result of:
- Aging – Diminishing hair cells in the inner ear, stiffening of the inner ear structure or loss of nerve endings on the acoustic nerve may be age-related causes of hearing loss.
- Blockages in the ear canal – Common blockages include earwax, foreign objects (toys, erasers, etc.), swelling from allergies or infections, injury, and birth defects.
- Ear infections – Ear infections typically cause swelling in the middle ear triggering a build-up of fluid behind the eardrum.
- Fistula – A fistula is an abnormal opening between the middle and inner ear allowing inner ear fluid to leak.
- Head injury – A head injury can damage nerves in the hearing centers of the brain.
- Medication – Some medications have been identified as ototoxic and can cause hearing loss.
- Meniere’s Disease – Pressure in the inner ear may cause fluctuating hearing loss, ringing in the ears, dizziness and nausea.
- Noise – The most common cause of hearing loss is noise exposure. It isn’t just about how loud the noise is, but also prolonged exposure to noise.
- Otosclerosis – This is a hereditary disease in which a new bone grows around one of the small bones behind the eardrum. The new bone disrupts sound transmission.
- Tumors (benign or malignant) – Depending on where the tumor is located, the resulting hearing loss may be conductive (sound is unable to travel to the inner ear) or sensorineural (inner ear or auditory nerve dysfunction).
Who to see for treatment of these disorders
A Doctor of Audiology (Au.D.) is the most qualified healthcare professional for diagnosing, monitoring and providing non-medical treatment of hearing and balance disorders in children and adults. Oftentimes, primary care physicians and specialists, such as an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat physician) or a neurologist, rely on the information an audiologist gathers in the course of treating their patients.
When you go to an audiologist for comprehensive hearing testing, he/she will determine the degree of hearing loss and where in the auditory system the loss is occurring. He/She will also discuss possible treatment options depending on your type of hearing loss.
As of 2007 one must successfully complete a minimum of 8 years of schooling, which includes a Bachelor’s Degree from an undergraduate institution and attend a post-graduate university to earn a Doctor of Audiology degree. In the past, audiologists earned a doctor of philosophy (PhD) or doctor of science (ScD) degree in the hearing and balance sciences. Furthermore, audiologists must be licensed or registered for practice in the state in which they are practicing (including the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico).
If you suspect you may have hearing loss, see an audiologist to find out what options and treatments are available to you.