Hearing impairment is a type of condition which causes partial or complete loss of hearing. Defects and disorders in the outer ear, middle ear and ear canal can lead to this type of a condition. Allergies, perforated eardrums, a thick layer of ear wax or tumors can lead to hearing loss. Some of the symptoms encountered are difficulty and trouble in hearing and understanding words and hearing music at very high volumes.
HOW IS HEARING IMPAIRMENT DIAGNOSED?
At the age of 65 or above, one out of 3 people are likely to suffer from hearing loss.
Hearing loss, or hearing impairment, is an ear problem that refers to the partial or complete inability to hear. Hearing loss may affect one or both ears. In children hearing problems can adversely affect the ability to learn language while it may result in work related difficulties in adults. It is diagnosed when a person is unable to detect sounds of 25 decibels in one ear at least. It can either be temporary or permanent.
Hearing loss may be caused by a number of factors:
• Exposure to loud noise.
• Injuries or trauma to the ear.
• Birth complications.
• Chronic ear infections.
• Rubella infection during pregnancy.
Problems of hearing can manifest the following symptoms:
• Loss of directionality of sound.
• Difficulty in understanding speech, especially of women and children.
• Dullness, muffling or attenuation of sounds or speech.
• Pain or pressure in the ears.
• Hyperacusis or heightened sensitivity to certain volumes and frequencies of sound.
• Tinnitus, ringing, buzzing, hissing or other sounds in the ear when no external sound is present.
• Vertigo and disequilibrium
• Tympanotonus or the abnormal hearing of one's own voice and respiratory sounds.
• Disturbance of facial movement (indicating possible tumour or stroke).
Tinnitus resulting from hearing loss is called subjective tinnitus. Noise exposure which damages hair cells in the inner ear causes tinnitus. Subjective tinnitus can only be heard by the affected person and is caused by otology, neurology, infection or drugs. Though hearing loss may have different causes, cochlear damage is mostly responsible for hearing impairment in tinnitus affected individuals.
There are two types of hearing loss:
• Conductive hearing loss: It is caused by any condition or disease that prevents the transmission of sound through the middle ear cavity to the inner ear. Conductive hearing loss may be caused by a blockage in the external ear canal. As a result, the sound that reaches the inner ear is of a lower intensity than the original. It can generally be remedied leading to complete or partial improvement in hearing.
• Sensorineural hearing loss: Sensorineural hearing loss is caused by the dysfunctioning of the auditory nerve or a problem in the inner ear. The reasons for sensorineural hearing loss are not always determinable. It is typically irreversible and a permanent condition. As in conductive hearing loss, sensorineural hearing loss also reduces the intensity of sound. In addition, it may also distort the sound so that it becomes unclear even when audible.
Hearing tests are used to ascertain when an individual should seek medical help. Physical exams, general screening, tuning fork tests and audiometer tests are used to diagnose hearing loss. Depending upon the degree of hearing impairment, the patient may be prescribed surgery, hearing aids or cochlear implants.
• Surgery- Surgery may be necessary in the event of a serious ear injury or infections which need to be drained.
• Hearing aids- If the hearing loss is a result of damage to the inner ear, a hearing aid can help improve hearing by increasing the volume of the sounds being transmitted. The audiologist usually recommends devices according to the need and age of the person concerned.
A bone-anchored hearing aid (BAHA) or bone-anchored hearing device is a type of hearing aid based on bone conduction. It is primarily designed for people who have conductive hearing losses, unilateral hearing loss, single-sided deafness and/or people with mixed hearing losses who cannot wear 'in the ear' or 'behind the ear' hearing aids. BAHAs are more expensive than conventional hearing aids, and require invasive surgery with minimal complications.
• Cochlear implants- Cochlear implants are helpful in the event of severe hearing loss. It is an electronic, medical device which bypasses the damaged cochlea to transmit sound to the brain.
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