q Life Worth Listening To: Hearing Loss and Types of Hearing Aids - Harcourt Health

Life Worth Listening To: Hearing Loss and Types of Hearing Aids

Do you feel like your hearing isn’t as good as it used to be? A 2017 study reported that 11.2% of Americans age 50 to 59 and 24.7% age 60 to 69 had soft frequency hearing loss in both ears.

Early identification of hearing problems and treatment decreases medical and psychosocial problems. Keep reading to learn more about hearing loss and different types of hearing aids.

Definition of Hearing Loss

Individuals with normal hearing can detect soft sounds at -10 to 25 dB. Hearing loss means that a person needs a decibel level higher than 25 dB to hear the same sound.

Hearing loss is categorized as mild, moderate, moderately severe, severe, or profound. 

Mild hearing loss means that the quietest sound heard is between 25 and 34 dB. Individuals with mild loss notice some trouble hearing conversations in a noisy environment.

Moderate hearing loss describes the softest sound heard as between 35 and 49 dB. This level of hearing loss causes problems in many situations including trying to hear conversations. This type of hearing loss benefits from hearing aids.

Moderately severe hearing loss means that the quietest sound heard is between 50 and 64 dB. These people have trouble hearing in most situations unless they use a hearing aid.

Severe hearing loss describes the softest sound heard as between 65 and 79 dB. These individuals will often need powerful hearing aids. They may also rely on lip-reading for communication.

Profound hearing loss means the quietest sound heard is at 80 dB or greater. They often need very strong hearing aids or cochlear implants. Lip-reading and sign language are also used for communication.

Types of Hearing Loss

All hearing loss is not the same.

Decreases in hearing occur due to different problems in the outer, middle, and inner ear. The ear also contains many nerves and specialized cells that contribute to hearing. Damage to any of these areas can result in hearing loss.

Conductive Hearing Loss

With conductive hearing loss, sounds can’t get through the outer and middle ear as normal. This makes soft sounds harder to hear and muffles loud sounds.

Causes of this type of hearing loss include:

  • Fluid in the middle ear resulting from colds or allergies
  • Ear infections
  • Problems with the Eustachian tube which drains fluid out of the middle ear
  • A hole in the eardrum
  • Non-cancerous tumors in the middle or outer ear
  • Buildup of earwax
  • A foreign object stuck in the ear
  • Birth defect causing an abnormal formation of the outer or middle ear

Medicine or surgery may be helpful in treating these problems.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Sensorineural hearing loss occurs due to damage to the inner ear. Soft sounds are hard to hear, and loud sounds are unclear or muffled. This represents the most common type of permanent hearing loss.

Causes of this type of hearing loss include: 

  • Illness
  • Medications that harm the ear structures 
  • Family history
  • Aging
  • Head trauma
  • Birth defect in the inner ear
  • Exposure to loud noises or explosions

Medicine and surgery most often cannot fix this problem. Hearing aids may be helpful.

Mixed Hearing Loss

In some cases, conductive and sensorineural hearing loss occurs at the same time. This happens when there is damage to the outer or middle and inner ear. This also occurs from interruptions in the nerve pathway to the brain.

An example of mixed hearing loss is if you work in a loud environment and have an ear infection at the same time.

Consequences of Hearing Loss

Loss of hearing is frustrating for the individual as well as others around them. Research conducted at Johns Hopkins recently showed links to medical problems as well.

Brain scans showed increased rates of brain atrophy (shrinkage) with hearing loss. The study reported that dementia risk doubled with mild hearing loss.

Also, the study found that moderate hearing loss triples dementia risk. Individuals with severe loss had a five times greater risk of developing dementia.

Patients also had more trouble walking and more falls. When walking, the ears notice subtle cues that contribute to balance. When these cues are lost, fall risk increases.

Many individuals with untreated hearing loss also experience psychosocial effects. This may include:

  • Frustration, anger, and guilt
  • Embarrassment and shame
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Depression or sadness
  • Worry, anxiety or suspicion
  • Feeling insecure
  • Low self-esteem and self-confidence

Untreated hearing loss can make communication difficult and lead to feelings of isolation.

Types of Hearing Aids

A hearing aid is a device designed to amplify sound. Most hearing aids have a microphone to pick up sound and an amplifier to make the sound louder. Tiny receivers send the amplified sound into the ear canal.

Some hearing aids have earmolds or earpieces. They help control the direction that the amplified sound is traveling. They also enhance the quality of the sound.

Types of hearing aids include:

Behind-the-Ear (BTE): The controlling parts are in a small plastic case placed behind the ear. An earmold or earpiece connects to the plastic case via a clear tube. The earmold or earpiece is placed in the ear canal.

“Mini” BTE: This style fits behind or on the ear and is smaller than the traditional BTE. An almost invisible tube connects the hearing aid to the ear canal that is more cosmetically appealing. These mini BTEs increase comfort and reduce feedback.

In-the-Ear (ITE): All controlling parts of the hearing aid are made in a shell that fits in the outer part of the ear. This style is larger than other types of aids. This can make them easier for some people to handle.

In-the-Canal (ITC) and Completely-in-the-Canal (CIC): These styles have tiny cases that fit partly or all the way into the ear canal. These represent the smallest style of hearing aid available.

ITC and CIC aids are more cosmetically pleasing and offer some listening advantages. Their small size may present a problem for some people. They may be hard to handle when adjusting settings and placement.

Analog vs. Digital Hearing Aids

Analog hearing aids provide continuous amplification of sound waves. Some have a microchip that allows you to program them for different environments.

Digital hearing aids contain the features of the analog programmable hearing aids. But, they use digital signals to create an exact replication of sound.

They analyze speech and environmental sounds. It then processes the sound to enhance the sounds you need to hear.

Affording Hearing Aids

Many insurance policies don’t include coverage for hearing aids. This means that people who need hearing aids may owe thousands of dollars. Or, they may not get the hearing aids they need.

Thankfully, you can get financing for hearing aids. This provides a way for you to get the hearing aids you need. Hearing aids provide multiple health benefits that outweigh the cost in the long run.

Do You Want to Learn More Helpful Health Information?

As our population ages, the need for hearing aids will rise. Many people find it hard to know what types of hearing aids are best and how to afford them.

Our site offers many articles about health issues for women, men, and children. For more helpful information like this, check out the rest of our content.