Health

How Do You Know If Hearing Loss Is Permanent or Temporary?

hearing loss

If you have sudden hearing loss, you should see your GP immediately. They will ask you about your symptoms and refer you to a specialist.

The ear is a complex organ. It converts sound vibrations into electrical signals that are sent to the brain.

Earwax blockages can cause temporary hearing loss, as can head trauma. Certain medications can also affect your hearing.

Table of Contents

Causes

Hearing loss can happen for a variety of reasons. It can be a sign of illness, injury, or simply due to age. Some causes of hearing loss are preventable, while others are not.

Ear infections, for instance, can damage the fragile parts of the ear that help you hear and may cause permanent hearing loss if left untreated.

The same is true for exposure to loud noises. A job or activity that involves frequent exposure to loud noises, such as construction, farming, factory work, snowmobiling, and listening to loud music on a regular basis, can damage the ear over time.

Noise-induced hearing loss can be either conductive or sensorineural. Conductive hearing loss happens when sound waves can’t easily pass from the ear canal to the eardrum and middle ear bones (the malleus, incus, and stapes).

It can usually be corrected with medicines or surgery. On the other hand, sensorineural hearing loss occurs when the nerve pathways that carry signals from the ear to the brain are damaged.

It is more likely to be permanent and often makes even the sounds of spoken language seem muffled or unclear. Medications, a cochlear implant, or hearing aids can help with this type of hearing loss.

Other causes of hearing loss include a ruptured eardrum, or tympanic membrane perforation, which is typically the result of infection or repeated exposure to loud blasts of sound.

A sudden increase in pressure, such as a blow to the ear, can also cause the eardrum to burst.

Hearing loss that occurs in infants and toddlers can be a sign of an undiagnosed medical condition or injury and should be evaluated promptly.

Certain medicines, such as gentamicin and sildenafil (Viagra), can also lead to temporary hearing loss. So can high blood pressure and heart disease, which can damage the delicate mechanisms inside the ear that help you hear.

Lastly, putting objects smaller than your elbow in the ear canal — cotton swabs, bobby pins, paperclips, or keys — can block the ear canal and subsequent hearing loss.

Keeping up with your regular visits to the otolaryngologist and following their instructions to avoid prolonged exposure to loud noises can help you keep your hearing in tip-top shape for as long as possible.

Symptoms

If you have permanent hearing loss, sounds might seem muffled or garbled. You might have trouble understanding speech in a noisy restaurant or following conversations on the phone.

You may notice that higher-pitched sounds, such as birds singing, are harder to hear.

A person’s inner ear has thousands of tiny hairs and nerve cells that convert sound vibrations into electrical signals the brain can understand.

Damage to these tissues and cells can cause a loss of hearing. The loss of hair and nerve cells may happen gradually due to age or exposure to loud noise.

Or it can occur suddenly as a result of a blow to the ear or an illness.

In the case of sudden sensorineural hearing loss, symptoms include ringing in the ears (tinnitus), dizziness, or a feeling that the ears are full.

This hearing loss usually happens in one ear at a time and worsens over weeks to months.

Other types of hearing loss aren’t as easy to diagnose because they don’t have obvious symptoms. A healthcare provider will use a lighted scope called an otoscope to look in your ear canal.

He or she will check for a popped ear drum, blockage of the ear canal from foreign objects or impacted ear wax, and inflammation or infection.

You will also be asked to respond to tones played through headphones. If you can’t hear certain tones, your healthcare provider will refer you to a specialist, called an audiologist, to test your hearing.

Hearing loss caused by long-term exposure to loud noises or illness, such as a viral infection, can be treated with medicine.

Preventive measures include wearing earplugs or earmuffs in noisy environments, such as concerts or sporting events.

You should also avoid poking objects into your ear, including cotton-tipped swabs, because this can push earwax deeper inside the ear and block your hearing.

A hearing aid can improve your ability to hear, but it won’t restore normal hearing. A cochlear implant can make sounds a little louder if you have severe hearing loss.

Treatment

Some treatments can help you regain some of your hearing and improve your quality of life. If you’re suffering from hearing loss, talk to your doctor about it and be prepared to describe your symptoms.

Your healthcare provider might refer you to an ear, nose, and throat specialist or a hearing specialist (audiologist).

Before you go to your appointment, write down your symptoms and how long you’ve been experiencing them.

Ask your family and friends to do the same; they may have noticed changes you haven’t. During your appointment, your doctor will use an otoscope or other lighted scope to check the outer and inner ears.

They’ll look for damage to the ear drum, blockage of the ear canal from foreign objects or impacted ear wax, and inflammation or infection.

Your doctor will also test your hearing with a tuning fork, which can help identify your hearing loss and where it is occurring.

Some types of hearing loss are reversible, particularly those caused by an ear infection or noise exposure.

To prevent this type of hearing loss, make sure you protect your ears when around loud or prolonged noises.

Turn down the volume on your music devices and consider purchasing power tools that have sound controls.

When you’re outdoors, wear earplugs or other ear protection to avoid exposure to excessive noise and wind.

Ear infections can be prevented by avoiding certain foods and medications and getting prompt treatment for any symptoms of an ear infection, such as persistent ringing in the ears or sudden hearing loss.

Untreated hearing loss can lead to social isolation, depression, and dementia. People with hearing loss often have to rely on family members or friends for assistance with daily tasks, such as reading and listening to conversations.

Those seeking help for their hearing often experience a boost in their mental sharpness and are better able to interact with others and keep up with their surroundings, especially when paired with a communication aid like a hearing aid.

Prevention

Preventive measures can help preserve your hearing, even if it has already deteriorated. Many kinds of hearing loss can be prevent by avoiding long-term exposure to loud noises and taking breaks from activities involving loud sounds, such as shooting or mowing the lawn.

Wear earplugs or earmuffs if you go to concerts, clubs, or other noisy venues (there are activity-specific options at hardware and sporting goods stores).

Avoid prodding your ears with cotton swabs or Q-tips; this can cause tinnitus or other problems.

Getting regular hearing tests is also important. Adding this to your routine health care can catch hearing loss early when it’s easier to treat and reverse.

Hearing loss ccauses by a variety of things, including genetic predisposition, lifestyle choices, medical conditions, and medications.

Certain diseases, such as high blood pressure and heart disease, can damage the delicate mechanisms of the inner ear, which transmit sound to the brain. In some cases, the damage may be permanent.

Certain medications can damage hearing, especially in older adults, making it harder to understand speech or hear other people.

Some of these are ototoxic, meaning they can damage the hair cells in the inner ear. They include a number of chemotherapy drugs, such as cisplatin; antibiotics, such as gentamicin; loop diuretics, which used to treat kidney and heart disease; and aspirin.

Sudden conductive hearing loss is a sign of wax buildup or ear infection and can be treat with medicine.

If it’s accompanied by tinnitus or ringing in the ears, consult your doctor immediately to determine the cause and get treatment as soon as possible.

A healthy diet, exercise, and weight management can lower your risk of developing hearing loss. If you have a family history of hearing loss, getting regular screenings is especially important.

Hearing loss can be a lonely experience, but staying active and socializing can help to maintain your independence.

When it’s not possible to prevent hearing loss, a specialist can provide solutions to make sounds clearer and reduce the symptoms.

Hearing aids can also improve your quality of life by reducing tinnitus and allowing you to communicate with others more easily.

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