By Alexander Germanis
The first sound of life is the high-pitched cry emitted by a newborn. It is so important a sound if an obstetrician does not hear it the baby is immediately inspected to see if he or she is actually breathing.
Sound plays such a crucial role in our lives starting with that very first drawn breath. The ability to hear sound, however, is a sense many people do not consider taking care of until it is too late.
Peoria Ear, Nose, and Throat Group’s audiologists are therefore dedicated to preserving your ability to hear all the sounds of life for as long as you live.
Types of Hearing Loss
While it is true different parts of our body weaken and get worn out simply due to age, it is a common misconception that one’s hearing will only start to degrade as one reaches senior citizen status.
Peoria Ear, Nose, and Throat Group (Peoria ENT) points out that hearing loss will not only affect anyone regardless of age it actually affects a larger percentage of people under the age of 65 than over. In fact, 1.5 million school children in the United States suffer from some degree of hearing loss, and by the time most people reach the age of 65 they have already suffered some form of hearing loss.
Of course hearing loss does not all fit in the same mold. Hearing loss is broken up into three categories: sensorineural, conductive, and mixed.
Resulting from damage to tiny hair cells in the cochlear nerve or the auditory nerve, sensorineural hearing loss can result in an inability to understand speech, a ringing or stuffy feeling in the ear, dizziness, or muffled hearing. Sensorineural hearing loss can progress slowly or rapidly and can usually only be treated with the use of hearing aids.
Conductive hearing loss is potentially reversible as it is usually due to obstructions in the outer or middle ear. Fluid or wax buildup, tumors, or even malformations of and in the ear can cause obstructions preventing sound from traveling to the inner ear. As obstructions and not outright damage is the cause of conductive hearing lose, it can often be treated with medicine or surgery.
Mixed hearing loss is a combination of sensorineural and conductive.
While age and the subsequent wearing down of the body can certainly play a role in gradual hearing loss, there can be numerous causes that can affect people regardless of age.
The most common cause of hearing loss aside from aging is excessive exposure to noise. Any noise at or exceeding 85 decibels—about that of a hair dryer—for eight hours or more can result in damage to one’s hearing. Naturally, the louder the noise the less exposure is needed before damage occurs.
Head trauma, a virus or disease, or genetics are common causes of damage as well, as is ototoxicity. Ototoxicity refers to a potential side effect from certain drugs. Certain antibiotics, loop diuretics, and platinum-based chemotherapy agents have been known to be ototoxic.
Sensorineural hearing loss may also be caused by obesity, smoking, hypertension, stroke, or high fever. Diseases and infections like measles, shingles, meningitis, diabetes, and Ménière’s disease are also known contributors.
Besides the aforementioned common causes, conductive hearing loss may also be caused by perforation or scarring of the eardrum or infections of the ear canal.
Most of us have experienced a moment when we did not hear something properly and have to ask someone to repeat what they said. While those moments may lead to some degree of embarrassment, permanent hearing loss can lead to consequences far worse.
An inability to hear properly can result in myriad issues, not the least of which is missing vital information such as hearing proper instructions or failing to notice an approaching car.
“Isolation, depression, dementia, and overall quality of life can go hand in hand with hearing loss,” adds Peoria ENT’s Jody Birmingham. “To miss out on the sounds of life you always heard before—those important conversations—are devastating. The sounds of your grandchildren, the wind blowing through the trees—when the sounds of life disappear it's life altering.”
Put to the Test
It is a rare individual who enjoys going to any doctor or dentist; nevertheless, most of us remember to schedule regular physicals, eye exams, and dental check-ups. But somehow, checking our hearing is almost always left by the wayside.
“Hearing loss often goes undiagnosed due to not getting a regular hearing test,” Jody points out. “But like getting a dental exam, getting your ears cleaned and a hearing test on a regular basis will help your overall hearing health.”
At Peoria ENT these hearing tests, or audiometric evaluations, include several specialized exams. A pure and warbled tone audiometry test is used to determine hearing loss at different frequencies.
The audiologists also perform bone conduction audiometry, speech reception thresholds, and determination of speech discrimination.
The tympanic membrane, commonly known as the eardrum, is tested with impedance audiometry and tympanometry. Electronystagmography determines the cause of vertigo or dizziness in order to address balance problems.
Unfortunately we cannot reverse all hearing loss. That does not mean strides are not still being made to better prevent it, preserve it, and reverse some of its effects.
At Peoria ENT, numerous devices and methods can be put in play that can help with hearing.
Hearing aids are, of course, a familiar device. “One of the biggest things I've learned at Peoria ENT is that the stigma of hearing aids has begun to disappear,” Jody shares. “With hearing aids, you can regain the sounds of life you were missing.”
Should hearing loss be too significant for a hearing aid alone, assistive listening devices (ALDs) can be put into use. Different ALDs can be used for television and the telephone, while others such as FM and infrared amplification are used for classrooms or theaters.
For those who are consistently in high noise environments—musicians, construction workers, or swimmers, for instance—Peoria ENT can make custom ear molds for hearing protection, as well.
It is often said, you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. That axiom can certainly be applied to your hearing.
The dedicated and highly trained audiologists at Peoria Ear, Nose, and Throat will do everything they can to prevent and fight hearing loss so you will never have to experience the heartbreak that can come from losing the precious sense of hearing.
It may be the caring lilt of a loved one’s voice, the familiar strains of your favorite song, or the warbling of a beautiful songbird in your backyard, but all of the sounds of life deserve to be heard and preserved.
Peoria Ear, Nose, & Throat Group is located at 7301 North Knoxville Avenue in Peoria, Illinois. Please call us at (309) 589-5900 to make an appointment or visit us on the web at www.peoriaearnosethroat.com
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