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Understanding Hearing Loss

Causes of hearing loss

Hearing loss can be the result of damage to any one of these sections.

Causes in the outer ear

Typical problems with the outer ear (A) include ear wax plugs and infections of the auditory canal. Usually, addressing these problems is very easy. But it is important to act quickly in order to avoid hearing damage.

Causes in the middle ear

Inflammation, fluid behind the eardrum, perforations of the eardrum and otosclerosis (a stiffening of the bones in the middle ear) are the most common problems to interfere with middle ear (B) function. Most outer and middle ear problems can be addressed effectively with medication or surgery. If this is not possible, permanent hearing loss can be compensated with a hearing aid in most cases.

Causes in the inner ear

The majority of hearing issues concern the inner ear (C). The most common cause is the natural aging process. But loud noise, taking some types of medication, or skull fractures can also have a negative influence on a person's hearing ability. These influences damage the fine hair cells and affect the transmission of signals to the auditory nerves. Usually, inner ear hearing loss cannot be addressed medically. However, this type of hearing loss can be corrected with a hearing aid in most cases. 

Hearing loss caused by an outer or middle ear defect is called conductive hearing loss. Damage to the inner ear, is called sensorineural hearing loss. If both types occur together, the condition is called mixed hearing loss.

Hearing loss changes our everyday life

Even simple conversations can be very tiring for people with hearing loss. Following a discussion with several participants requires intense effort. Active communication is difficult, which can quickly lead to isolation.

Hearing loss can have many causes. But in most cases, hearing loss can be addressed successfully.

The ear is a very complex sensory organ

It consists of three sections: Outer ear, middle ear and inner ear. (links to causes of hearing loss) Parts of the ear:

  1. Pinna
  2. Auditory canal
  3. Eardrum
  4. Malleus
  5. Incus
  6. Eustachian tube
  7. Stapes
  8. Semicircular canals
  9. Cochlea
  10. Auditory nerve

Consequences of hearing loss

Hearing loss often has complex consequences

Many facets of everyday life become increasingly more difficult. Conversations with loved ones, meetings, phone calls and watching TV can be particularly challenging. In many cases, people with hearing loss will withdraw and become socially isolated. Their quality of life diminishes noticeably

Consequences of hearing loss

Studies have shown that people with hearing loss who do not use hearing aids experience more sadness, fear and anxiety than hearing aid users. They reduce their social activities, become emotionally unstable and have trouble concentrating.

On the other hand, studies also show that hearing aid users experience a dramatically increased quality of life as soon as they start using a hearing aid. They maintain better family relationships, have more self-confidence and experience more independence and security.

Physical consequences

If hearing loss is not corrected, it can result in physical issues such as tiredness or fatigue, headaches, vertigo and stress.

The described symptoms are not always caused by untreated hearing loss, but they are observed in many cases. If you experience hearing loss and recognize some of the symptoms described above, you should contact us.

What are the different degrees of hearing loss?

Between “hearing well” and “hearing nothing” lies a wide range of different degrees of hearing loss. Experts distinguish between mild, moderate, severe and profound hearing loss. Most cases of hearing loss are categorized as mild or moderate.

Mild hearing loss

Soft noises are not heard. Understanding speech is difficult in a loud environment.

Moderate hearing loss

Soft and moderately loud noises are not heard. Understanding speech becomes very difficult if background noise is present.

Svere hearing loss

Conversations have to be conducted loudly. Group conversations are possible only with a lot of effort.

Profound hearing loss

Some very loud noises are heard. Without a hearing aid, communication is no longer possible even with intense effort.

The sound of speech

Human speech consists of vowels and consonants at different loudness and frequency levels. They are recorded on the audiogram as a so-called “speech banana”. It is an easy way to check whether the entire spectrum of speech is still audible and how a person’s hearing changes with time.

What does hearing loss sound like?

I can hear, but I don’t understand properly

Hearing loss often affects our ability to understand speech. In particular, the consonants /P/, /K/, /F/, /H/ or all /T/, /Sh/ and /S/ sounds are no longer heard.

Explaining hearing loss

This diagram shows both the loudness and frequency (pitch) of various everyday sounds. Going from top to bottom is increasing in volume and going from left to right is increasing in pitch.

For example, a truck is very loud and also very low in pitch. On the other hand, birdsong is very quiet and very high in pitch. The diagram also indicates the loudness and pitch of different letters within speech.

When hearing ability is measured, the quietest sounds that an individual can hear (hearing threshold) are plotted on such a diagram.

The hearing thresholds’ position on the diagram indicates what level of hearing loss a person has. These different levels of hearing loss can be seen on the right hand side in the diagram above.

Sounds which lie above (quieter than) the hearing threshold cannot be heard by that individual person when not using a hearing aid.

Hearing Loss Simulation Sound Tracks

We can't hear what other people hear. People with hearing loss are usually unable to explain how the hearing loss affects them or what they hear and what they don’t hear.

The following sound tracks are meant to give you or other people an idea of how hearing loss changes perception.

  • Alps
  • Announcement
  • Beethoven
  • Birds
  • Ducks
  • Frogs
  • Piano
  • Popmusic

What is an audiogram?

An audiogram is a graphic representation of your hearing ability. During a hearing test, your hearing is checked at different frequencies. The result is recorded as a characteristic audiogram curve.

The frequencies

The horizontal scale at the bottom indicates the different frequencies. The low frequencies (e.g. the hum of an engine) are located on the far left, the high sounds (e.g. the twitter of a bird) on the far right.

The loudness level

The vertical scale indicates the loudness level of the respective frequency, from soft (top) to loud (bottom). Values are given in decibels, abbreviated as dB. The healthy human ear begins to perceive sounds starting at 0 dB and reaches the threshold of pain at 110 dB.

About 800 million people around the world are affected by hearing loss. It is estimated, that this number will rise to 1.1 billion by 2015 – about 16% of the world’s population.

Several different studies show that approx. 65% of people with hearing loss experience a mild hearing loss, 30% a moderate and 5% a severe or profound hearing loss.

Only about a third of all people with hearing loss are of retirement age. The majority is of school or working age.

Studies also showed that only one in five people who would benefit from a hearing aid actually uses one.

On average, people with hearing loss wait almost 10 years before they do something about it.

At the same time, more and more young people experience hearing loss, which is mainly due to excessive noise levels and listening to music much too loudly.