Your Fundamental Guide to Hearing Loss

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Hearing loss is a complex subject, so we've pulled together a handy guide that has all the best information in one place!

We take you through the common symptoms of hearing loss to help you understand whether it might be affecting you, then we explore the most common causes of hearing loss, and answer your questions around whether age-related hearing loss is normal, and what other consequences noise-induced hearing loss can have on your overall health.

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We also offer up some tips on how you can improve your verbal communication, and give you some scientific evidence that chocolate might be good for your hearing! So if you’ve always secretly known that chocolate was good for you, and you’re ready to learn why – keep reading!

Common Symptoms of Hearing Loss
How's Your Hearing in Background Noise?
10 Common Causes of Hearing Loss
Is Age-Related Hearing Loss Normal?
Health Consequences of Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
5 Tips to Improve Verbal Communication
Oxidative Stress: A Chocolate a Day Keeps the Audiologist Away?

Common Symptoms of Hearing Loss

Because hearing loss often occurs gradually, you may not notice it's even happening - which can be quite problematic as it's important to act quickly once you realise you may be experiencing symptoms of hearing loss.

Fortunately, there are some classic signs that may help indicate that you have a hearing issue that needs attention. If you notice any of these signs are happening on a regular basis, it's time for a hearing test.

  • You’re losing clarity of voices: it’s getting harder to detect softer sounds and the nuances of speech.

  • You have difficulty hearing in social environments: background noise masks over the finer sounds of speech, making it more challenging to listen to who you’re speaking with.

  • You’re turning up the TV: it’s easy to just turn the volume up, but this might make it too loud for others! It’s very common to hear the TV when it’s loud – but it’s still not clear.

  • You have ringing in your ears: it’s estimated that 90% of people with tinnitus have hearing loss.

  • You’re exhausted: because you are spending extra energy and effort to use your eyes to read lip movement and body language.

    Read more detail about the symptoms here.

How's Your Hearing in Background Noise?

Listening is really hard work, especially in noisy or busy places. As we age, the brain cells designed to filter noise don’t work as well as they used to, so it gets harder and harder to focus on the speech you want to hear. This occurs even with normal hearing, but a hearing loss makes it much more difficult.

The good news is it’s possible to train our ears and brain to listen and there are many digital training programs to help! We've listed a few of our favorites below (but there are many more available).

LACE - Listening and Communication Enhancement
Angel Sound

For more detailed information on these programs, click here.

Before starting any training program, it's important to get a baseline hearing test. If you have difficulty hearing in noise, talk with your audiologist and learn about your best options.

10 Common Causes of Hearing Loss

A large portion of the population has some form of hearing loss. In fact, the World Health Organisation estimates that there are 466 million persons in the world with disabling hearing loss (6.1% of the world's population).

There are plenty of causes that contribute to this climbing number, ranging from acute, physical damage to the ear to the natural aging process. While each cause of hearing loss is unique, the most common causes for a Kiwi to have a hearing loss are narrowed down to these 10 things.

  1. Physical damage to the ear: exposure to loud noise over time may cause wear and tear on your auditory nerve cells.

  2. Earwax buildup: your ear canal can sometimes produce more earwax than is necessary, resulting in blockage.

  3. Ear infection: infections can cause hearing loss due to fluid building up behind the eardrum – fortunately this kind of hearing loss is usually temporary.

  4. Ruptured Eardrum: this can happen suddenly and without warning, when earwax or fluid from an infection builds up and the pressure tears the membrane, causing damage and hearing loss.

  5. Ototoxic drugs: Ototoxic refers to any substance that is poisonous to the ear, and some regular or prescribed medications can contribute to tinnitus or hearing loss over time.

  6. Smoking: many studies have shown that exposure to tobacco smoke can directly impact your hearing health and lead to hearing loss.

  7. Diabetes: your inner ears rely on good circulation to maintain health, and diabetes can cause high blood glucose levels which can cause damage to the small blood vessels in the inner ear, resulting in hearing loss.

  8. Acoustic neuroma: this is a non-cancerous, slow-growing tumor that can develop on the main nerve leading from your inner ear to your brain – the most common symptoms of this are gradual hearing loss that is more pronounced on one side.

  9. Hereditary hearing loss: some hearing loss can be related to genetics, occurring when a dominant or recessive gene is passed down from parent to child, and this cannot be prevented.

  10. Age-related hearing loss: occurring over your lifetime, age-related hearing loss can depend on your genetics, environmental exposure, and pathophysiological changes related to aging, such as changes in heart health.

Find out more about each of these causes by clicking here.

Is Age-Related Hearing Loss Normal?

Often once the first signs of hearing loss present, people begin to wonder whether age-related hearing loss is to be expected and normal for their age. This is a common question for audiologists that we're asked by patients all the time - so don't worry, you're not alone. However, it's a difficult one to answer as we don’t actually classify hearing test results based on age.

A lot of people make the assumption that as they are ageing, hearing loss is to be expected, and with the statistics surrounding age related hearing loss (presbycusis) it makes sense, too:

"one adult in five and more than half of all people over the age of 80 suffer from hearing loss". -

In actuality, there is a range (like most things in health) for what is considered normal based on what information we need to understand a typical conversation.

So, if you are diagnosed with a hearing loss (despite age), it wouldn’t be considered 'normal'. This is mostly due to the fact that, yes, hearing loss is more common with age, but that doesn’t make it “normal”. In fact, any amount of hearing loss can complicate communication and reduce quality of life, regardless of age, and it shouldn't be something anyone should have to live with just because they're 'ageing'.

To learn more about why our hearing changes as we age, click here.

Health Consequences of Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

Noise-induced hearing loss is a workplace hazard for many. It might seem convenient to leave the earplugs at home, but that choice can have long-term consequences for your hearing and overall health.

Occupational noise-induced hearing loss (ONIHL) is one of the most common internationally-reported diseases. The type of work, duration of exposure, and magnitude of noise can drastically alter the effects on the auditory structures and hearing loss. For example, agricultural and construction-type work with hydraulic equipment, are two professions at highest risk for severe hearing loss.

Click here to learn more.

5 Tips to Improve Verbal Communication

We are hardwired for connection with one another. One of the most common ways we connect is through verbal communication, especially speech. If we lack good communication skills or have limited resources for communication, it can significantly impact our social interactions. Take a look at some helpful hints for good verbal communication.

  1. Always face the person you are communicating with

  2. Take your time

  3. Use a comfortable volume

  4. Repeat with different words

  5. Pay attention

To read about each of these tips in more detail, click here.

Oxidative Stress: A Chocolate a Day Keeps the Audiologist Away?

There may be some truth to this!

The delicate structures of our inner ear are incredibly sensitive to oxidative stress and the inflammation that results. Oxidative stress occurs when there’s an imbalance between free radicals (normal output of a cell's metabolic process) and their neutralizing component, antioxidants. Over time, free radicals can build up (oxidative stress) and cause damage to tissue and cells, like those found in our inner ear, resulting in hearing loss symptoms. Some foods are high in polyphenols which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects on cells in the body. Chocolate is one of them, so click here to read more.

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