Reasons You May Have Difficulty Hearing

November 02, 2015
When people think of hearing loss, many associate it with the wear and tear that comes with aging.  However, people of all ages can experience hearing loss because there are a variety of factors, aside from getting older, that can make you lose your hearing. If you are experiencing any symptoms of hearing loss, a proper diagnosis is the first step in recovery.

Symptoms of hearing loss

In most cases hearing loss is a gradual occurrence. One symptom is hearing muffled noises rather than crisp distinct sounds. Another symptom is experiencing voices or sounds that are distant or faint, so greater volume is required to understand and recognize those sounds.
In fact, chances are, your friends or family members may notice your hearing limitations before you do. Some signs include asking to repeat questions, focusing hard on the person who is talking, or requesting someone speak louder or enunciate words because you are having difficulty understanding them speak. Most often, consonants are hard to distinguish and conversations are particularly hard to understand or follow when there is background noise.
Other symptoms of hearing loss sometimes include vertigo, ringing, or buzzing in the ears – or even experiencing ear pain or irritation. 

Diseases and physical conditions that cause hearing loss 

There are several different causes for hearing loss, including conductive hearing loss, sensorineural hearing loss, and a combination of the two (mixed hearing loss). These types of hearing loss can affect one or more of the three main structures of the ear, which all work together for proper hearing.
Conductive hearing loss occurs when there is a physical blockage in the ear that prevents sound waves from reaching the inner ear. This affects the outer and middle structures of the ear and can be caused by excessive ear wax, fluid in the ear, an ear infection resulting in pus or swelling, or tumors or abnormal bone growths (otosclerosis). These conditions can lead to either permanent or temporary hearing loss, but there are both medical and surgical processes to reverse the symptoms.
Sensorineural hearing loss is associated with the degradation of the nerves within the inner ear. Damage to the auditory nerves is typically either age-related or caused by excessive exposure to noise such as loud music or machinery sounds. However, some viral infections can lead to hearing loss in addition to complications with diabetes and fevers. This damage is considered permanent and non-reversible and is rarely treatable with medicine or surgery. However, hearing aids can significantly reduce the symptoms of hearing loss.
Lastly, there can be damage to the connections between the brain and the ears, which can be caused by a head injury or stroke. So although the structures of the ear are working, there is a disconnection between the ears and the brain. 

When to see a doctor 

Hearing loss can have a negative effect on a person’s life if not treated. It can often lead to being withdrawn from social situations in order to avoid the embarrassment of asking someone to repeat themselves or being accused of poor hearing. This can lead to feelings of depression. Hearing loss can also take away a person’s independence, such as being unable to speak on the telephone or communicate with others in public.
If you experience a sudden loss of hearing, see your doctor immediately.  If your experience is more gradual and you or your friends or family members begin to notice your failing hearing, schedule a visit to your doctor for a diagnosis and the proper follow up treatment.
By Dr. Kanate Vaewvichit, OtolaryngologistEar, Nose, and Throat Center, Bumrungrad Hospital

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