Hearing loss is one of the most common chronic illnesses in the U.S. Explore hearing loss causes, symptoms, prevention methods and more to learn how to better take care of your ears.
August 6, 2021
Did you know more than 48 million Americans struggle with hearing loss? Here’s what you need to know about hearing loss causes, symptoms and prevention — whether you’re a veteran, an older adult or a teen who loves listening to loud music.
The two largest causes of hearing loss are noise exposure and aging. Loud noises, even in small doses, can cause hearing damage over time. The level of exposure and the amount of time you’re exposed are the two main ways to gauge potential damage.
If you have to shout over a sound to talk, the noise is likely more than 80 decibels. Being exposed to this sound level for more than 30 minutes can cause hearing loss over time. Sounds above 120 decibels, such as a gunshot or an airplane, can cause damage within minutes.
While noise exposure is more easily preventable, hearing loss as you get older is a part of life. There is no known single cause of hearing loss due to aging, but it’s most commonly due to wear and tear of nerve cells or hairs in the inner ear.
There are three main types of hearing loss.
Conductive: Affects the ear canal or the middle ear space behind the eardrum
Sensorineural: A long-term hearing loss caused by noise exposure and aging.
Mixed: A combination of both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss.
While mishearing a sentence on occasion is no cause for concern, substantial hearing loss is not normal and should be addressed by a doctor. Some symptoms of hearing loss might be:
Knowing how to prevent hearing loss, as well as the steps to take if you’re experiencing hearing problems, can help your hearing immensely.
To prevent hearing loss in everyday situations, use hearing protection, back away from the source and lower the volume. For conductive or temporary hearing loss, seek out an ear, nose and throat doctor to assess and treat the condition. For sensorineural, long-term hearing loss, hearing aids are a common and useful treatment.
First, it’s important to avoid noisy environments when possible. If you don’t have control over the noise, try foam earplugs or earmuffs when mowing the lawn, using a saw or attending a concert.
Also, try to keep yourself healthy. Other chronic conditions — like diabetes and high blood pressure — can impact your hearing, so make sure to keep up with wellness checks. Research shows that the sooner you address hearing loss, the more effective hearing aids and other treatment methods will be.
Remember that hearing loss can usually only be prevented or treated— not cured. However, in cases where hearing loss onsets suddenly, an audiologist or ear, nose and throat doctor may be able to treat the issue if it’s addressed quickly. If you think you’re losing your hearing, make an appointment with a doctor and get your hearing tested right away.