Q: What causes hearing loss?
A: There are two categories of hearing loss. Sensorineural hearing loss is the result of damage to the inner ear or auditory nerve and is usually permanent. Conductive hearing loss occurs when sound waves are unable to reach the inner ear. It’s typically able to be resolved by surgery or medical treatment.
In general, hearing loss is caused by damage to the inner ear from aging or loud noises, ear infections, abnormal bone growths or tumors, earwax buildup or a ruptured eardrum.
Q: What is the first sign of hearing loss?
A: Early signs of hearing loss include difficulty understanding conversations in crowded places or over the phone, struggling to hear consonant sounds, feeling tired after conversations and ringing in your ears, also known as tinnitus.
Q: Can hearing loss be restored?
A: Though hearing loss is only able to be fully restored in limited cases, hearing aids and other treatments can allow you to hear the sounds of your world again. If you have conductive hearing loss, which is the result of sound waves being blocked from the inner ear, it may be able to be resolved by surgery or medical treatment.
Sensorineural hearing loss, which causes hair cells in the ear that detect sound to be permanently damaged, is not able to be resolved. However, hearing aids can allow you to connect with sounds again.
Q: How can hearing loss be prevented?
A: There are a variety of steps you can take to prevent hearing loss. You can avoid noise-induced hearing loss by wearing earplugs or other hearing protection in loud environments. Also, consider turning down the volume on your television or music. Other types of hearing loss can be prevented by avoiding putting cotton swabs in your ears, managing your blood pressure, keeping diabetes under control and avoiding ototoxic drugs when possible.
Q: What causes tinnitus?
A: There are many health conditions that can lead to tinnitus, and often, an exact cause is never found. Common causes of tinnitus include:
- Hearing loss, because the hair cells in the ear that pass sound to the brain can leak electrical impulses to the brain when they are broken
- Ear infections or ear canal blockage, which change the pressure within the ear
- Head or neck injuries, which can impact the inner ear, hearing nerves or brain function related to hearing
Other factors include Meniere’s disease, problems with the Eustachian tubes, tumors in the head and neck, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders and certain medications.
Q: Does tinnitus cause hearing loss?
A: Tinnitus may interfere with your hearing, but it does not cause hearing loss.
Q: Can people with tinnitus have hearing loss?
A: Because tinnitus is a symptom of a variety of inner ear disorders, many people with tinnitus also experience hearing loss.
Q: When should you get your hearing checked?
A: You should visit an audiologist for an exam if you’re struggling to hear, someone else has noticed a change in your hearing, you’re experiencing ear drainage or pain or hearing loss runs in your family. Additionally, those older than 65 or people who work in loud environments should also have a hearing test.
Q: How often should you get your hearing checked?
A: According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), healthy adults under 40 who are not experiencing any hearing loss should have their hearing tested every three to five years. People who are older than 60, have already been diagnosed with hearing loss or are regularly exposed to loud noises should receive a hearing test annually.
Q: What level of hearing loss requires a hearing aid?
A: Hearing aids are beneficial even for people with mild hearing loss. Treating hearing loss while it is still mild will allow you to remain engaged with your surroundings and connected with loved ones.
Q: Is it better to get hearing aids early?
A: Yes. There are a variety of benefits to treating hearing loss early, including:
- Improved communication with friends and colleagues
- Reduced risk of cognitive decline, depression and isolation
- Increased connection to the world around you
Q: What are the different types of hearing aids?
A: Hearing aids fall into two categories: in-the-ear models and behind-the-ear models.
In-the-ear hearing aids are worn in the ear canal. Styles include:
- Invisible-in-the-canal (IIC) and completely-in-the-canal (CIC) models, which are the smallest options available
- In-the-canal (ITC) models, which sit in the lower part of the outer ear bowl and are slightly larger than their IIC and CIC counterparts
- Low-profile hearing aids, which include both half-shell and full-shell designs that sit in the outer eat bowl
Behind-the-ear hearing aids sit behind or on top of the outer ear with tubing connected to the ear canal. Styles include:
- Receiver-in-the-ear (RITE) or receiver-in-canal (RIC), which have the speaker resting in the ear canal and the microphone and processor resting behind the ear
- Behind-the-ear with earmold, which can offer more features, controls and battery power
Q: Which hearing aid is best for my kind of hearing loss?
A: Your audiologist will help you choose the hearing aids that will work best for you. Factors they will consider include your degree of hearing loss, the shape of your outer ear and ear canal and any additional features you may benefit from.
Q: Is it OK to just wear one hearing aid?
A: If you’ve been diagnosed with hearing loss in only one ear and normal hearing in the other, you only need one hearing aid.
But if you have hearing loss in both ears, using two hearing aids will help you hear in noisy environments and determine which direction sounds are coming from. Even if you have less hearing loss in one ear than the other, using two hearing aids will be beneficial.
Q: What is it like to hear through a hearing aid?
A: Hearing aids can reconnect you to sounds you’ve been missing and help you better understand speech, but they don’t restore the ear’s natural functions. You may find the new sounds a bit overwhelming at first since your brain needs time to become reaccustomed to processing information entering the ears. Sounds also may seem unusually loud, but you’ll become used to them with time.
You’ll have several follow-up visits with your audiologist to ensure that your device is working for you. During these visits, your provider will help you with any questions or concerns about adjusting to your hearing aids.
Q: What are the side effects of a hearing aid?
A: Like most significant lifestyle changes, hearing aids may take some getting used to. Along with many benefits, there may be some uncomfortable side effects initially, but your audiologist will help you find solutions to any issues that arise.
Side effects may include:
- Headaches. This is a result of your ears getting used to new sounds and usually disappears within a few months.
- Irritated or itchy ears. Your ears may feel uncomfortable if your hearing aids do not fit properly. An audiologist can help adjust your device to reduce this feeling. If your ears itch, you remove your hearing aids to clean them and prevent wax buildup.
- Issues with feedback. If you hear a whistling or buzzing sound, it may be the result of your hearing aids misdirecting sound. Though this does not occur as often with the digital processors offered by modern hearing aids, your audiologist can help if you’re experiencing this issue.
OTC Hearing Aids
Q: What is an over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aid?
A: OTC hearing aids are medical devices meant to treat mild to moderate hearing loss in those 18 or older. Like prescription hearing aids, they are regulated by the FDA, but they each have varying guidelines for safety and efficacy. OTC hearing aids are different from personal sound amplification products (PSAPs), which are not regulated by the FDA.
Q: What is the difference between a hearing aid and an OTC hearing aid?
A: Unlike prescription hearing aids, OTC hearing aids are only meant for adults with mild or moderate hearing loss. They do not require an exam or fitting from an audiologist.
Q: What kinds of hearing loss is an OTC hearing aid designed for?
A: OTC hearing aids are designed for adults experiencing mild or moderate hearing loss. They are not meant to be used by those younger than 18 or adults with severe hearing loss.
Q: Can I get a hearing aid without an audiologist?
A: Prescription hearing aids, which are customized for your needs and appropriate for all levels of hearing loss, are only available after receiving a hearing exam from an audiologist. Over-the-counter hearing aids have been approved by the FDA for certain cases of mild to moderate hearing loss and are available without a hearing exam.
Q: What does an audiologist do?
A: Audiologists are healthcare professionals that provide care for issues stemming from the auditory and vestibular areas of the ear, such as hearing and balance disorders. Most frequently, they diagnose hearing impairments and provide treatment for them. They do not perform surgery or prescribe medication.
Q: Is an audiologist a doctor?
A: Audiologists are healthcare professionals who have earned at least a master’s degree and most hold a doctorate of audiology degree; however, they are not physicians.
Q: What is the difference between an ear doctor and an audiologist?
A: An ENT, or otolaryngologist, is a doctor that treats issues related to the ears, nose and throat. They focus on diseases, tumors, nerve issues and other abnormalities in these areas of the body.
An audiologist is a hearing healthcare professional that specializes in hearing and balance disorders. They specialize in the technology used to manage conditions like hearing loss.
Q: What can an audiologist diagnose?
A: Audiologists work with patients of all ages. They diagnose:
- Hearing loss: This can be caused by damage to the inner ear, a ruptured eardrum, a buildup of earwax, ear infections or abnormal bone growth.
- Auditory processing disorders: These disorders cause the brain to struggle to understand and process sound, as well as differentiate speech and non-speech.
- Tinnitus: This condition is marked by a ringing or whooshing sound in the ears.
- Balance disorders: These conditions make you feel dizzy or unsteady on your feet. You may also feel vertigo or the sensation that the room is spinning around you.