People affected by hearing loss and deafness
Hearing loss is general and can affect people of any age. It is thought that half the general population above the age of 75 has some hearing loss. Children are the next most general group to be affected, generally due to fluid or infection in the middle ear but also due to congenital problems or viral illness during early childhood. Hearing loss can interfere with usual communication with others on a daily basis.
How your ear works
We are capable to hear because sounds enter the ear canal and pass along it to the eardrum. The sounds reason vibrations first of the eardrum and then of the little bones, called ossicles, which bridge the gap between the drum and the cochlea.
Types of deafness
The reason of deafness can be broadly grouped according to where in the ear they happen. A problem of transmission of sound waves through the ear canal and middle ear is referred to as a conductive hearing loss.
- Conductive hearing loss
A conductive hearing loss happen 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 happen either because the sound waves are not reaching the eardrum, for example because of wax blocking the ear canal, or because the vibrating mechanisms of the eardrum or ossicles are not working properly, for example because of current or earlier infections.
- Sensorineural hearing loss
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 centers in the brain. Again there are many causes, the most general being that of hearing loss in old age (presbyacusis), which generally affects both ears to a like degree and can be associated with noises in the ear (tinnitus). Tremendously rarely, but more seriously, the hearing loss may be due to a growth, otherwise known as a tumor, on the hearing nerve in the brain.
The main complexity with sensorineural hearing loss is an incapability 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 accurately what is being said. It can lead to immense frustration and feelings of isolation.
When to seek advice
You should always see your doctor immediately if you have a sudden hearing loss, as sometimes treatment for sudden deafness should be started within 48 hours of its onset. If you notice a hearing loss only in one ear, you should see your doctor, who will probably refer you on to an ENT specialist or an audio logical physician.
If you notice a gradual deterioration of your hearing you should seek recommendation from your doctor who will advise you of the appropriate action to be taken, and will be able to organize a hearing test and specialist referral if essential.
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