What Is Hearing Loss?
Hearing disturbances can cause great discomfort and disability. In general, deafness, presbycusis and hearing loss are the most frequent conditions of this nature, being more common in older adults. Are you interested in knowing more about it? Keep reading.
The ear is the organ in charge of capturing auditory stimuli, converting them into electrical impulses that can be interpreted by the brain. Studies from 2015 affirm that more than 6.8% of the world population suffered from a hearing disability at that time.
What is hearing loss?
It’s a condition that’s also known as partial deafness. It’s a sensory disorder characterized by a significant reduction in the ability to capture and hear sounds. This usually occurs in elderly patients or as a result of congenital disease in younger people.
This condition can cause complications in the development of speech and communication in newborns. Similarly, it can occur in one ear or in both, limiting daily activities. Also, hearing loss can be temporary or permanent. The intensity can range from mild to severe, and can evolve to permanent deafness in extreme cases.
The clinical manifestations of hearing loss may vary depending on the age group affected. In general, the most common symptoms and signs in adults are:
- Difficulty perceiving low-pitched and high-pitched sounds.
- Inability to discriminate words when two or more people are talking.
- Poor hearing in noisy environments.
- Perception of poorly articulated or whispered voices.
- Increased hearing sensitivity for bass and male voices.
On the other hand, some people may experience ringing and a feeling of pressure or discomfort in the ear. In addition, patients with Meniere’s disease and acoustic neuroma may have vertigo and dizziness. Young children may show little reaction to sound stimuli and a lack of first words.
Types of hearing loss
At present, the partial reduction in hearing capacity can be classified based on the pathophysiology and the level of the ear where the alteration occurs. In this sense, specialists can identify the following types of hearing loss:
- Conduction: This occurs in the event of an obstruction or injury that prevents the adequate capture and transmission of the sound stimulus. In this case, the condition can be located in the external auditory canal, in the tympanic membrane, or inside the middle ear. This is considered the most common form of hearing loss.
- Perception: This is also known as sensorineural hearing loss. People have an inability to convert sound impulses into electrical stimuli or to transmit them to the central nervous system. The lesions are usually located at the level of the inner ear or along the vestibulocochlear nerve (8th cranial nerve).
- Mixed hearing loss: This occurs in the face of a mixture between the pathological events of conductive and perceptual hearing loss. It’s usually the result of a severe head injury.
Some research suggests that hearing loss in children can be classified according to the degree of hearing loss measured in decibels. Taking into account that the normal hearing threshold is 0 to 20 decibels. For this reason, mild hearing loss has a threshold of 21 to 40 decibels, moderate has 41 to 60 decibels, moderate-severe 61 to 80 decibels, and severe more than 100 decibels.
Partial hearing loss can be caused by a wide variety of pathologies. In most cases, health professionals divide the causes into acquired etiologies and those of congenital origin.
Acquired causes are more common in schoolchildren and older adults, among which are the following:
- Obstruction by earwax or foreign bodies
- Otitis externa and media
- Prolonged exposure to noise
- Hearing loss associated with age or presbycusis
- Meniere’s disease
- Ear and head trauma
- Meningitis and purulent labyrinthitis
Similarly, it can be the result of sudden changes in pressure or the use of ototoxic drugs, such as aminoglycosides.
On the other hand, congenital causes are diseases that occur during pregnancy and cause alterations in newborn babies. Among these are the following:
- Rubella, cytomegalovirus, toxoplasmosis, and syphilis infection
- Blood incompatibility
- Anoxia and fetal distress
- Thalidomide consumption
- Neurofibromatosis type 2
Hearing loss can be promoted by several factors. Some of the biological and lifestyle variables that increase the risk are the following:
- Over 65 years of age
- Professions with exposure to excessive noise
- Family history of hearing loss
- Infections during pregnancy
- Consumption of antibiotics and diuretics without medical pre-registration
- Smoking and alcoholism
Diagnosis of hearing loss
The identification of hearing loss is based on a comprehensive medical evaluation supported by complementary diagnostic tests. In this sense, the specialist will carry out a detailed assessment of the symptoms that afflict the person, as well as the personal and family history associated with the clinical picture.
The physical examination should focus on an inspection of the ears and sensorineural evaluation. The doctor will use an otoscope to assess the condition of the ear canal and detect the presence of secretions, inflammatory signs, or malformations.
The Rinne and Weber tests are used to determine the conductive or sensorineural origin of hearing loss.
In addition, audiometry, tympanometry, magnetic resonance imaging, and computed tomography are part of the complementary studies in the diagnosis of this condition. Studies affirm that high-frequency audiometry has a sensitivity of up to 100% in the early detection of hearing loss.
The therapy for partial hearing loss will depend on the underlying cause. However, most people require treatments that improve hearing, including the following:
- Hearing aids: These are intra-ear devices that amplify external sounds to a tone audible to the patient. For moderate or severe hearing loss, behind-the-ear hearing aids that conform to the shape of the ear can be used.
- Cochlear implants: This is a surgically implanted electronic device that seeks to fulfill the functions of the outer, middle, and inner ear. It’s capable of capturing sound stimuli, converting them into electrical impulses, and redirecting them to the vestibule-cochlear nerve.
- Brainstem implants: These are small objects that connect directly to the nerve nuclei in the brainstem. It’s generally used in those with a total vestibulocochlear nerve rupture or in those born without it.
- Bone conduction implant: This is an intradermal device that’s responsible for transmitting sound impulses in the form of vibrations through the bones of the skull. In this way, the vibrations will be perceived in the inner ear and sent to the brain.
On the other hand, the application of auditory rehabilitation measures and auxiliary communication techniques is essential. In addition, professionals recommend the participation of a psychologist as part of the approach plan.
When to seek medical attention?
Hearing loss is a condition that can occur in people of all ages. In general, it tends to go unnoticed in elderly patients or in workers subjected to noisy environments. However, reduced hearing capacity is often a red flag and indicates that something isn’t working properly.
Doctors recommend seeking immediate care for persistent hearing dysfunction that doesn’t go away or quickly worsens. Similarly, hearing loss accompanied by pain, buzzing, discharge of secretions, and severe headaches should be detected and treated as soon as possible.It might interest you...
- Wilson BS, Tucci DL, Merson MH, O’Donoghue GM. Global hearing health care: new findings and perspectives. Lancet. 2017 Dec 2;390(10111):2503-2515.
- Suárez A, Suárez H, Rosales B. Hipoacusia en niños. Arch. Pediatr. Urug. 2008 Dic ; 79( 4 ): 315-319.
- Olivares D, Lagos G. Utilidad diagnóstica de la audiometría de alta frecuencia en sujetos expuestos a ruido recreacional. Rev. Otorrinolaringol. Cir. Cabeza Cuello. 2020 Mar ; 80( 1 ): 28-38.
- Monsalve A, Núñez F. La importancia del diagnóstico e intervención temprana para el desarrollo de los niños sordos: Los programas de detección precoz de la hipoacusia. Psychosocial Intervention. 2006 ; 15( 1 ): 7-28.
- Álvarez M, Ronda H, Conejero H, Borges de Almeida C. COMPORTAMIENTO DE LAS HIPOACUSIAS DE CONDUCCIÓN. AMC. 2007 Dic ; 11( 6 ).
- Cardemil F, Mena P, Herrera M, Fuentes E et al. Prevalencia y causas de hipoacusia en una muestra de escolares de la zona sur de Santiago. Rev. Otorrinolaringol. Cir. Cabeza Cuello. 2016 Abr ; 76( 1 ): 15-20.