What Happens with Hearing Loss?
Did you know that hearing actually happens in the brain? Our ears also play a huge role in the auditory process, but the bulk of how we recognize sound happens in the brain.
Sound in your environment is picked up by your outer ear and the waves travel through your middle ear. Sound waves are amplified and turned into vibrations by the ear drum. These vibrations make their way to the inner ear, where tiny cells – known as inner ear hair cells – pick them up and turn them into neural signals that are sent to the brain. These neural signals make their way through pathways that are “paved” by years of use. This is how we recognize sounds seemingly instantaneously – a friend’s voice or the slam of a door.
With hearing loss, sounds may be unclear or incomplete as they make their way to the brain. Over time, these neural pathways could dull from disuse, making it all the more difficult to rebuild with the use of hearing aids if one waits too long to treat hearing loss. Hearing loss interferes with our ability to pick up environmental sounds clearly, discern between speech noises and background noise, and recognize speech in general.
Consequences of Untreated Hearing Loss
The Hearing Loss Association of America reports that people wait an average of seven years from the time they first experience changes in their hearing to the time they decide to seek treatment. Because hearing loss occurs gradually, people tend to adjust their behavior to accommodate their changing hearing abilities. You may find yourself asking people to repeat themselves or you may misunderstand the things people say. Over time, with difficulties in communication, people with untreated hearing loss may withdraw socially. This could harm interpersonal relationships and could also affect one’s professional life. Untreated hearing loss has been linked to an increased risk for depression, stress, and anxiety.
In terms of employment, untreated hearing loss could affect your earning power. Studies have shown that people with untreated hearing loss earn less than colleagues with normal hearing or colleagues who treat their hearing loss with the use of hearing aids. Hearing loss affects our ability to communicate, which is incredibly important depending on your line of work.
Studies from Johns Hopkins University show that untreated hearing loss has the potential to increase one’s risk for developing dementia. Because hearing takes place in the brain, untreated hearing loss places a heavier cognitive load on the brain. This extra burden to sort out sounds and make sense of unclear sound signals could be taxing on the brain and take away from other processes. Additionally, the social withdrawal that comes from untreated hearing loss contributes to a risk for dementia.
Because we use our sense of hearing to situate ourselves within our environment, untreated hearing loss could impact our personal safety and security. From crossing a busy road in traffic to not hearing the smoke alarm at home, untreated hearing loss increases the risk for accidents, falls, and hospitalization.
Types and Causes of Hearing Loss
There are three types of hearing loss: conductive, sensorineural, and mixed.
Conductive hearing loss relates to the outer and middle ear. This form of hearing loss often occurs to do injury or blockage in the outer and middle ear. Certain congenital diseases may also lead to conductive hearing loss.
Sensorineural hearing loss relates to the inner ear, specifically the inner ear hair cells. With this form of hearing loss, inner ear hair cells are damaged. This may occur due to the natural process of aging (presbycusis) or exposure to loud sounds (noise-induced hearing loss). Certain classes of ototoxic medications may also damage inner ear cells. Because these cells do not regenerate, the process of neural signals being sent to the brain to be recognized as sound is hindered.
With hearing loss, there are also configurations and degrees. Hearing loss may be unilateral (one-sided) or bilateral (two-sided). Degrees of hearing loss range from mild to profound, affecting the way you experience a sound’s volume.
Treating Hearing Loss
Hearing loss is the third most common medical condition in the US, but it is often under-treated or ignored. There are many stigmas attached to hearing loss and hearing aids, such as “looking old” and not wanting to use those “flesh-colored bulky things.”
However, leaving hearing loss untreated could significantly impact one’s life negatively – from employment to interpersonal relationships. Even more, the hearing aids available now on the market are far more advanced, sleek, and sophisticated than you can imagine. With wireless connectivity and near-invisible design, today’s hearing aids work quickly and intelligently, fitting into your life seamlessly.
There’s no reason to live with untreated hearing loss. To schedule a hearing test and consultation, contact us today at Hearing Health.