You can lose your hearing for lots of reasons: age, genetics — and all those blaring rock concerts you attended in your youth. More than 26.7 million Americans 50 years of age or older now have trouble hearing. For many people, auditory loss happens so gradually they barely realize it. Others find that their ears seem to be working fine one day, and not so well the next. Here are three types of hearing problems and what you can to about them:
1. You have trouble hearing others in a noisy restaurant
Why it happens: As you age — especially if you’ve been exposed to frequent loud noises — you might have presbycusis, a type of gradual hearing loss caused by the death of hair cells in the cochlea, in your inner ear. Those are the cells that translate sound vibrations into brain signals. Difficulty hearing in noisy places is often one of the first noticeable signs of hearing loss. That’s because filtering out background noise is a fairly complex process that requires precise auditory input from both ears.
How to fix it: Although you can’t repair damaged cells, you can prevent further loss by limiting your exposure to loud noises. Most conversations occur between 40 and 60 decibels; any sound higher than 85 decibels puts you at risk. Common culprits include electronic devices like iPods, music players and sound speakers that can blast out as many as 105 decibels.
2. You have a feeling of fullness in your ears
Why it happens: Excess mucus from an infection or allergy can block the eustachian tube, the small canal that connects the throat to the middle ear and regulates airflow, particularly when you swallow or yawn. Besides feeling fullness and muffled hearing, you might also experience popping, pain or tinnitus (ringing in the ears) or have difficulty maintaining balance. A buildup of earwax can cause that feeling of fullness, too.
How to fix it: “Most eustachian tube dysfunctions improve when the infection goes away. If not, a doctor can prescribe decongestants and antihistamines to help reduce inflammation. As for earwax, any health care provider can remove it with a suction device, irrigation tool or nasal spray. Don’t try to do it yourself, however, as you can easily damage your eardrum.
3. Your hearing loss is sudden
Why it happens: Swelling or fluid buildup as a result of a virus or ear infection can affect hair cells and nerves, as can taking high doses of certain medications, including aspirin, IV antibiotics, chemotherapy drugs and diuretics.
How to fix it: If an audiogram shows nerve injury, hearing can be recovered if steroids are given within 72 hours of the onset of hearing loss. Steroids reduce inflammation and prevent swelling of the auditory nerve, which, if left untreated, can cause permanent hearing loss. Loss of hearing because of the use of certain drugs — a condition called ototoxicity — requires an immediate change in your medication, if possible.
Each of these hearing problems is unique and should be taken seriously. One of the first steps is to get a hearing test. For a free, no obligation hearing screening, please contact Sonus at 888.574.6776.