What is Severe Hearing Loss?

Severe hearing loss can be difficult to live with, but diagnosing and treating the condition is important to ensure you’re able to live the most normal and comfortable life possible. What do you need to know about severe hearing loss?

What is severe hearing loss?

First, let’s define our terms. Severe hearing loss is where you have difficulty hearing sounds. This often takes the form of having problems hearing and understanding someone who is speaking at a normal conversational volume. You may only be able to hear unusually loud sounds with any real clarity.

What causes severe hearing loss?

Severe hearing loss has a number of different potential causes. It’s important to remember that hearing loss can affect anyone, from the very young to the very old, and has a diverse range of triggering events.

Hearing loss at birth

It helps to have an understanding of how our ears actually work. Noise travels through the air in sound waves, and it’s those waves that vibrate your eardrum. As they do, the tiny bones in your ear move, which results in waves in the fluid filling your inner ear. The waves bend tiny hair cells attached to nerves, which pass electrical signals to your main hearing nerve (the auditory nerve) and then to the brain.

Our DNA is made up of many different genes that are involved in the process of hearing; any problems with them can potentially mean issues. In many cases, this will present itself from birth, as over half of severe hearing loss in babies is determined to be as a result of their genes.

Hearing loss can also present itself as a result of issues while the baby is in the womb. Medication taken during pregnancy can result in a baby being born with severe hearing loss or even deafness. In other cases, it can be down to the mother developing an infection, such as cytomegalovirus.

Hearing loss as you get older

Hearing loss can present itself at any time during your life and can result from a number of things. Here are some examples.

  • Noise – One very loud noise, like an explosion, can damage your hearing, as can consistent exposure to loud noises like loud music or construction equipment without using appropriate ear protection.
  • Disease – Health conditions such as brain tumours, rheumatoid arthritis, ear infections, and other autoimmune diseases can have an effect on hearing. As can the inner ear condition Meniere’s disease.
  • Clogging – When your ear gets full of earwax or an object gets stuck in the ear canal, it can damage your hearing. This is why you should never put anything into your ear, as it could cause issues.
  • Injury – Injuries that result in head trauma can present issues with hearing. This is also true of activities that involve you being in environments with different pressures, such as scuba diving or sky diving.
  • Medication – Certain cancer, heart disease, and other serious infection medications can cause damage to the ear and result in hearing loss. This can sometimes be temporary during the treatment stage.

Symptoms of severe hearing loss

Symptoms of hearing loss prevent themselves in a number of ways. If you’re finding yourself having trouble hearing voices when in groups, in conversation, in noisy public places, or on the phone, it can be an indication of hearing loss. Similarly, if you’re regularly having to turn the TV or radio in your car up to hear it, or not hearing your alarm clock, it can mean there’s an issue.

What’s involved in a diagnosis?

The sooner you or your child is diagnosed, the sooner treatment can begin.

There are two types of hearing tests; automated auditory brain response, which measures nerve response to an auditory stimulus, and otoacoustic emissions, which measure an echo from soft music or noise played into the ears.

Questions you may be asked during your exam include;

  • Do you often feel as if others are mumbling?
  • Can you hear someone else easily in a noisy place?
  • How long has the problem been present?
  • Have you any ongoing or previous health conditions?
  • Is hearing loss present in your family?

Treating severe hearing loss

The treatment you get will depend on the root cause of your hearing loss, and the severity with which it’s impacting your life. In most cases, technology will be used to help improve the way the ear works and bring you the ability to hear clearer.

Hearing aids are one of the most common forms of treatment. There is a large range of hearing aids available, some of which clip outside the ear and others which are designed to be worn inside the ear. The work be amplifying sound in order to make it easier for you to hear.

Implants are devices that vibrate in your ear and are often used in more severe cases of hearing loss where hearing aids will offer minimal or no help. They work by triggering the nerves inside the ear. They cannot “fix” your hearing loss, but they can make it easier to hear than it would be without the implant. Cochlear implants often consist of the implant itself, a microphone, transmitter, and a speech processor. The process is one that has to be tailored to every individual, so it will likely take several visits to your audiologist in order to tune the implant to best suit you.

Seek help if you notice a problem

If you’re noticing that you’re having more difficulty hearing on a day-to-day basis, don’t wait to get the assistance of a medical professional. Severe hearing loss will not magically get better on its own unless it’s caused by certain short-term medication. It’s always the best idea to get yourself thoroughly examined, and a treatment plan can be developed to help bring you more clarity to the way you hear things.

If you notice voices are muffled or quiet, or your ears are always ringing, or you have any inner ear pain, seek medical attention to help diagnose and treat the cause.