I think I’ve begun to lose my hearing

A series of articles by various writers on medical topics this one is by Edel Rooney.

I’ve recently felt my hearing hasn’t been as sharp as before – particularly in one ear. I’m only 45 so I didn’t expect to start losing my hearing yet. What could be the cause of this and would you recommend I take one of those online hearing tests I’ve heard a lot?

Hearing loss can take hold at any age for any number of different reasons. Common causes include blockages in the inner ear, exposure to excessive noise levels or side effects from various illnesses.

There are three main types of hearing loss:

Conductive hearing loss occurs when there is a blockage in the outer or middle ear, or both. This makes it difficult for sound waves to reach the cochlea (the part of the ear that converts sound waves into electrical signals to send to the brain). A conductive loss can be temporary in nature and in some cases may be treated medically or surgically. Hearing aids may also be prescribed for some patients.

Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when there is a problem in the inner ear or the auditory nerve. The most common condition associated with a sensorineural hearing loss affects the hair cells in the ear that are responsible for picking up high-pitched sounds. This is referred to as presbyacusis or age-related hearing loss.

Damage to the hair cells can be a result of:

  • Excessive noise exposure
  • Meniere’s Syndrome
  • Diseases such as meningitis
  • Ototoxic drugs (drugs with side effects that affect hearing)

Because sensorineural loss often affects the hair cells that detect soft, high-pitched sounds, it can be very difficult to hear speech clearly, especially when there is competing background noise. This type of loss is permanent but it can usually be addressed with hearing aids.

Mixed hearing loss is diagnosed when a conductive hearing loss occurs in combination with a sensorineural hearing loss. Mixed hearing loss usually responds well to hearing aids, and other treatments to address the conductive component of the hearing loss may also be sought.

Online hearing tests can give you a guide to your hearing ability but there are many factors that interfere with the reliability of an online test – things as simple as your computer’s microphone settings. When your hearing is professionally tested, the test is carried out in special sound conditions and with specially calibrated equipment.

Instead I’d recommend you discuss your hearing loss with a healthcare professional or hearing specialist. After all, if hearing loss is revealed, you will need a professional to explain what that could mean for you.

You may also have an easily-treatable condition that could be something as simple as excessive ear wax – this will not be revealed on an online hearing test.

Another advantage of being tested professionally is there will be a record of your current hearing levels to enable you check if your hearing deteriorates in the future. Put your mind at rest and get your ears professionally checked.

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