About Hearing Loss

Sound travels through the ear canal, creating vibrations of the ear drum (tympanic membrane). These vibrations are transmitted through the bones of hearing (the ossicles – hammer, anvil and stirrup) into the inner ear (cochlea). In the cochlea, these mechanical vibrations (energy) are converted into electrical energy and conducted via nerve impulses to the brain, which interprets them as recognizable sounds.

There are two basic categories of hearing loss:

Conductive Hearing Loss - is hearing loss due to disease/ malformation of the ear drum and/ or bones of hearing, causing a loss of sound conduction to the inner ear. This type of hearing loss is often surgically correctable or readily rehabilitated with a hearing aid.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss - is hearing loss due to nerve damage. This is the most common form of hearing loss and is the type that either affects the elderly or those born with deafness. When sensorineural hearing loss is affecting your life style and ability to function at work, you may be a candidate for hearing aids. If the hearing worsens you may require a cochlear implant.

Sometimes, hearing loss can be a combination of both conductive and sensorineural damage. Some common causes of hearing loss include: Ageing, Noise Damage, Infection, and Inherited Hearing Loss - some people are born with genes that manifest hearing loss either at birth or later on in life.

Facts about Hearing Loss

  • Over 90% of deaf children are born to hearing parents.
  • 30-40% of people over 65 have some type of hearing loss
  • 14% of those ages 45-64 have some type of hearing loss
  • 15% of children between the ages of 6-19 have a measurable hearing loss in at least one ear.
  • Hearing loss occurs in 5 out of every 1,000 newborns.
  • Exposure to a noisy subway, for just 15 minutes a day overtime, can cause permanent damage to hearing over time.
  • Hearing aids can offer dramatic improvement for most people with hearing loss.
  • A mild hearing loss can cause a child to miss as much as 50% of classroom discussion.
  • Listening to an MP3 Player at high volumes overtime can cause permanent damage to hearing.
  • With early identification and appropriate services, deaf children can develop communication skills at the same rate as their hearing peers.
  • Noise is one of the leading causes of hearing loss.
  • Babies are never too young to have their hearing tested.
  • Speechreading is the more current word for lipreading.
  • People with hearing loss wait an average of 7 years before seeking help.
  • Only 16% of physicians routinely screen for hearing loss.

How do I know if I have hearing loss?

You may have hearing loss if…

  • You hear people speaking but you have to strain to understand their words.
  • You frequently ask people to repeat what they said.
  • You don’t laugh at jokes because you miss too much of the story
  • You frequently complain that people mumble.
  • You need to ask others about the details of a meeting you just attended.
  • You play the TV or radio louder than your friends, spouse and relatives.
  • You cannot hear the doorbell or the telephone.
  • You find that looking at people when they speak to you makes it easier to understand.

If you have any of these symptoms, you should see a hearing care professional to get an audiometric evaluation. An audiometric evaluation is the term used to describe a diagnostic hearing test, performed by an Audiologist. An Audiometric Evaluation is not just pressing the button when you hear a “beep.” Rather, an audiometric evaluation allows the hearing care professional to determine the type and degree of your hearing loss, and it tells the professional how well or how poorly you understand speech. After all, speech is the single most important sound, and the ability to understand speech is extremely important. The Audiometric Evaluation also includes a thorough case history (interview) as well as visual inspection of the ear canals and eardrum.


Understanding the Audiogram

The first step to understanding your hearing or the hearing of a child or family member is to have a complete evaluation by an audiologist. An audiologist will present sounds in a sound-proof room and will record the reaction to the sounds on a chart called audiogram.

Regardless of the type of hearing testing used, an audiogram will display the degree and type of hearing loss.

What to know:

  • Circles represent the right ear. Xs represent the left ear. You may also see brackets when the test used is bone conduction, which helps to differentiate between sensorineural hearing losses and conductive hearing losses.
  • The numbers going across the top refer to frequency or pitch of sounds presented (think of the low notes and high notes of a piano)
  • The numbers down the side refer to loudness from the softest sound the ear can hear to very loud sounds. Sound is measured in decibels; the larger the number, the louder the sound.
  • Every hearing loss is unique. Make sure to ask your audiologist to explain your audiogram to you.

Your audiogram reveals the degree and type of hearing loss present. Each person is different. The more you understand about the test, the better a consumer of hearing health care you become.