Clinically Reviewed by:
David Lee

Last Updated August 7, 2019

Hearing Helps Us Keep Relationships With Those We Love

It doesn’t take much hearing loss to make communication difficult and to interfere with the way we interact with other people. It can affect our closest personal relationships, our professional relationships, and even our daily routines. Healthy hearing is a really important part of our connection with others, and without it, it’s easy to feel isolated or left out of normal life.

Child whispering into Grandmother's EarHearing is a delicate balancing act in which mechanisms of the inner ear and brain work together in interpreting sound. Problems with either the inner, middle or outer ear can prevent important sound information from reaching the brain; such partial information can be a source of confusion and misunderstanding of what is being said.

These misunderstandings are why loss of hearing has such a big impact on us and on our relationships. It’s frustrating and disheartening to constantly experience miscommunication.

A basic understanding of hearing loss is a good thing to have to help us take care of our own hearing health and to support those around us who may be experiencing difficulty hearing.

Ear problems involving the outer or middle ear are referred to as conductive hearing loss. Problems related to the inner ear or the ability of the brain to process sound information are called sensorineural hearing loss. These are two distinct types of hearing loss with differing treatment methods.

01 | Understanding Why Healthy Hearing Matters So Much

Communication is not just the words people choose to use. How we speak, our words, and the tone of our voice all work together to express our thoughts and feelings. A voice can be deeply moving, conveying thoughts, emotions, and feelings.

Every spoken word consists of sounds and tones which create understanding and enable us to build and maintain relationships. When we or our loved ones are missing portions of this communication, they are missing the chance to hear, understand, and connect with us.

02 | Hearing Equals Participating

Hearing and understanding provide a vital link to the world around you. They enable you to communicate and interact with others and are a source of enjoyment and information. The sense of hearing is often taken for granted and its gradual deterioration can impact your ability to actively participate in life.

Family gathered with wine

03 | The Impact Of Hearing Loss

If you have a loss of hearing, you probably are having to put in more effort to hear and understand. Having to do this constantly can be tiring, and you may find yourself withdrawing from social activities because of this extra strain. It’s common to discover that people with hearing loss have been carefully arranging their lives to avoid difficult or frustrating situations where their hearing loss is interfering with life.

“… you may find yourself withdrawing from social activities because of this extra strain. It’s common to discover that people with hearing loss have been carefully arranging their lives to avoid difficult or frustrating situations…”

Hearing loss also affects the people around you. Conversations and interactions can become more strenuous, not only for you but also for them. Communication breakdown is stressful for everyone, and over the long term, can cause real hardship. Studies show that people who took steps to address their hearing loss experience a noticeable improvement in many aspects of their lives.

04 | When Voices Become Less Clear

Hearing loss can creep up gradually, without you realizing it at first. Some sounds remain audible while others become softer and harder to hear. As a result, communication becomes increasingly challenging and requires more effort. It is the higher pitched sounds that are often hardest to hear and understand. High-pitched consonants like “s”, “f ”, and “th” play a key role in our ability to understand speech clearly. This is why people with a hearing loss often say “I can hear, but I don’t understand what’s being said” or think people around them are mumbling.

05 | Hearing Loss Affects Individuals And Everyone Around Them

500 Million People Affected by Hearing Loss

Hearing loss affects approximately 500 million people worldwide. Although people of all ages can develop a hearing loss, older adults, or those over 50 years of age, are particularly affected. In fact, hearing loss is the third most common chronic condition, more prevalent than diabetes or cancer as per CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Hearing loss is invisible and usually gradual, but it can have a profound influence on the person with hearing loss and everyone around them.

06 | How Healthy Hearing Works

How We Hear

When a sound enters the outer ear, it causes the eardrum to vibrate. The sound is transmitted by three small bones from the middle to the inner ear. The inner ear contains a snail-like shaped structure called the cochlea which is filled with fluid and lined with sensory cells with microscopic fine hairs. These hairs move with the vibrations and convert the sound waves into nerve impulses which are sent to the brain. The result is the sound you hear.

Binaural Hearing

Binaural Hearing: The Preferred Method

The brain’s ability to process information from both ears at once is called “binaural hearing.” This perfect situation is great for communication. It lets us understand sound clearly, identify exactly where it’s coming from and even pick out the sounds we want to hear when they’re competing with other sounds in noisy environments.

When one ear lags behind the other in hearing ability, the condition is called “unilateral hearing loss.” People in this situation comprehend only about 30 to 35 percent of what two healthy ears can hear. Unilateral hearing loss can be especially tough on students. For instance, being forced to repeat a grade is much more likely for a child with a poorly functioning ear.

07 | Common Causes Of Hearing Loss

Common causes of hearing loss include genetics, damage to some portion of the inner ear, middle ear, or outer ear, and loud noise. Hearing health can also be affected by other conditions like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, ototoxic meds from cancer, or smoking.

The Outer Ear

Typical conditions which may lead to hearing loss include excessive accumulation of earwaxand infections of the ear canal.

The Middle Ear

Perforation of the eardrum, ear infection, or fluid in the middle ear are the most common causes of hearing loss in the middle ear. Many outer and middle ear problems can be treated by a doctor. Hearing loss caused by conditions of the outer or middle ear is referred to as a conductive hearing loss.

The Inner Ear

The majority of hearing problems result from damage to the inner ear. Typical causes are the natural aging process, medication that is toxic to the auditory system, and head injury. Excessive exposure to noise is another common cause of hearing loss. Generally, hearing loss resulting from inner ear damage cannot be reversed by medical treatment, but can largely be improved with hearing aids. This type of hearing loss is referred to as a sensorineural hearing loss.

08 | Hearing Aids: What You Should Know

New Hearing Aids Offer a Significantly Improved Quality of Life

For a new hearing aid wearer, the role of family members, friends, and colleagues is crucial, especially in the initial period of adjustment. Transitions are always tricky, and it’s human nature to want immediate results.

Try to have patience and stay positive. The new hearing aid wearer needs your support and encouragement. Help them discover the benefits of their new hearing aid, and remember that everyone will benefit from clearer communication.

Helpful Advice for Communicating With People With Hearing Aids

  • Speak Clearly and Naturally
    It is not necessary to shout – this will cause sound distortion and discomfort to the hearing aid wearer. Maintain a normal tone of voice, and simply speak clearly and more slowly.
  • Move Closer to the Person With Hearing Aids
    Reduce the distance between you and the listener, especially when background noise is present.
  • Take the Surroundings Into Account
    Don’t try to converse from one room to another or in rooms with distracting noises, such as a washing machine, vacuum cleaner, loud music, etc. – this is likely to lead to mutual frustration.
  • Understand That Using Hearing Aids Can be Tiring
    When talking with a new hearing aid wearer, be aware of signs of fatigue. Don’t force or prolong conversations if the listener is tired.
  • Be patient when someone has difficulty understanding
    Respect the pace of adjustment and encourage the person with hearing loss. Be a good listener and help them to achieve their goal of better hearing and understanding
“For a new hearing aid wearer, the role of family members, friends, and colleagues is crucial, especially in the initial period of adjustment…Try to have patience and stay positive.”

09 | I’m Noticing Hearing Problems. Do I Need A Hearing Test?

Evaluate Your Hearing

  • Do people seem to be mumbling?
  • Do you have to turn up the volume on the TV or radio?
  • Do you find it easier to understand a man’s voice compared to a woman’s or a child’s voice?
  • Do you find it difficult to hear the doorbell or the telephone ring?
  • When you are in a group or in a crowded restaurant, is it difficult for you to follow the conversation?
  • Do you tend to limit your social activities because it’s difficult to hear and communicate?
  • Has somebody close to you mentioned that you may have a problem with your hearing?

If you have answered “yes” to one or more of the questions above, speak to a hearing care professional to have your hearing tested more thoroughly and get advice.

Hearing Tests: When to ask a Hearing Health Care Professional for Help

Making the decision to have your hearing tested is the first step towards improving your quality of life. A qualified hearing health care professional can tell you whether you have a hearing loss and recommend the best course of action.

Doctor performing ear exam

10 | Common Types Of Hearing Loss

Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SHL)

This most common type of hearing loss tends to result from damage to delicate hair cells in the cochlea (an organ located in the inner ear); those cells are responsible for picking up sounds. Overexposure to loud noises can damage or destroy these cells—or the nerves they connect to—making hearing more difficult. High-frequency sound is usually the first casualty of loud-noise exposure, which can lead to permanent high-frequency hearing loss.

Conductive Hearing Loss

Infection or blockage of the outer or middle ear tends to be the culprit in this type of hearing loss. Middle-ear infections (otitis media) can cause sound-blocking fluid build-ups. A blockage outside the eardrum can be caused by swimmer’s ear or a buildup of earwax. Conductive Hearing Loss is typically treatable, subsiding once the infection or blockage clears, or as the result of needed surgery.

Mixed Hearing Loss

This condition tends to involve some combination of sensorineural hearing loss (SHL) and semi-permanent conductive hearing loss, perhaps an ossicle malfunction in the middle ear (ossicles are tiny bones that conduct sound). Once the conductive hearing loss has been handled through treatment or surgery, hearing should improve; the SHL, however, tends to be permanent.

“Overexposure to loud noises can damage or destroy these cells—or the nerves they connect to—making hearing more difficult. High-frequency sound is usually the first casualty of loud-noise exposure, which can lead to permanent high-frequency hearing loss.”

Unilateral Hearing Loss

This term refers to hearing loss in only one ear. A person can be born with it, it can come on spontaneously and even over the course of several days. In early life, it can interfere with speech and language development; children may also have trouble understanding where sounds are coming from, hearing speech in noisy situations, and hearing at longer distances. A focus on communication development can help kids born with unilateral hearing loss achieve academic, economic and social success.

Sudden Hearing Loss

Just as the name suggests, this is a sudden loss in hearing, either total or partial, either immediately or over a 24-hour period. Sudden hearing loss tends to self-resolve within two weeks, but the possibility of permanent hearing loss exists. Steroids may be used to support hearing recovery, but when there is no positive change within two weeks, improvement is unlikely. Immediate treatment greatly increases the chances of a full recovery, and about 85 percent of people who seek treatment will get some of their hearing back; so, if sudden hearing loss occurs, consult your physician right away.

High-Frequency Hearing Loss

In cases of high-frequency hearing loss, vowels tend to come through clearly, where consonants like f, s, t, and z are hard to understand. Since it develops slowly over the course of decades, diagnosing high-frequency hearing loss tends to be difficult. Early signs of it include trouble hearing higher-octave sounds, like chirping birds, or the voices of women and small children. It can also be indicated by difficulty conversing in groups or hearing speech amid background noise. Hearing aids are an effective treatment for high-frequency hearing loss, but wearing hearing protection when you’re exposed to loud noises can go a long way toward preventing it in the first place.

Family sharing wine

11 | Common Signs Of Hearing Loss

Because hearing loss tends to sneak up on people over time, it’s important to be familiar with some common signs of hearing loss:

  • A history of hearing loss in your family
  • Giving awkward responses to misunderstood
  • Assuming that others aren’t speaking clearly
  • Avoiding social opportunities you would otherwise enjoy
  • Being diagnosed with diabetes, cardiac, circulatory or thyroid problems
  • Frequently asking people to repeat what they just said
  • Trouble hearing conversations amid background noise
  • Frustration from having difficulty trying to hear people
  • A regimen of medications known to affect hearing
  • Getting remarks about how loud you keep your TV or radio
  • Having a job or pastime that exposes you regularly to loud sounds
  • Trouble conversing with more than two people at one time

If one or more of these common hearing loss indicators pertain to you, please get in touch with us right away about scheduling an exam. Identifying symptoms is just the first step. The only way to accurately evaluate the condition of your hearing is with a professionally administered test that assesses your ability to hear an entire range of sound.

Free download:
A guide to hearing loss

This free guide covers how to maintain healthy hearing, signs of hearing loss and what to do if you or a loved one have hearing loss.

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Download Hearing Loss Guide
Download Hearing Loss Guide

Free download:
A guide to hearing loss

This free guide covers how to maintain healthy hearing, signs of hearing loss and what to do if you or a loved one have hearing loss.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

What Most People Ask About Hearing Loss

Unfortunately, many forms of hearing loss are permanent because there is no cure. Treatment methods that feature amplification fit to your specific hearing loss by a hearing care professional typically have the highest user satisfaction for improved hearing and improved quality of life.

Protecting your hearing from noise levels greater than 85 decibels at work and during leisure activities will greatly reduce your chances of noise-induced hearing loss. Many manufacturing jobs require hearing protection in loud environments, but hearing protection is also recommended while ATV riding, hunting, attending concerts and sporting events, and playing music — all situations where your hearing is vulnerable.

How can you tell when loud noises might harm your hearing? If you need to raise your voice to be heard over the sound, it’s loud enough that you should be wearing hearing protection. And the louder the sound, the shorter the time you can be exposed to it before it starts damaging your hearing.

You can also ask yourself if the noise seems louder than a lawnmower or leaf blower, which usually average around 80 to 85 decibels. If it’s louder than a lawnmower, be careful! Exposure at this level for even two hours can cause damage. Noise levels above 85 decibels is considered the threshold at which one’s hearing is endangered, and where existing hearing loss can be made worse. Very loud environments such as concerts, sports events, or nightclubs can be 100-110 decibels, causing damage in as little as 5 to 15 minutes. [Source:]

You’ll need hearing protection at these noise levels, but remember, you can try headphones or earbuds to see what works best.

Many jobs, and safety laws that protect you while working, require hearing protection in loud environments, but hearing protection is recommended in all situations where your hearing is vulnerable.

See your physician immediately; sudden hearing loss is considered a medical emergency. Sudden hearing loss typically resolves on its own within two weeks, but it might not — meaning your hearing might be gone for good. Seeking medical assistance within 72 hours of the onset of sudden hearing loss greatly improves the chances that your hearing will recover.

Since hearing loss is cumulative, hearing loss begins as an infant and continues throughout life. Most individuals don’t begin to experience symptoms until their late 20s or early 30s, and by age 45 a yearly hearing check becomes of greater importance. Hearing loss is more common in older adults. One-third of people beyond the age of 65 have some degree of hearing loss, however mild or severe, and that share of the elderly population increases as they age.

Hearing loss is a puzzle that our professionals love to solve, and it is based on your individual experiences, lifestyle, and severity of impairment. There is no one-size-fits-all treatment method for hearing loss — it’s based on the sounds that you can’t hear, which vary greatly, and the sounds that you want to be able to hear.

A quality hearing system from a reputable manufacturer isn’t effective until an experienced, qualified hearing care professional programs the technology properly based on your unique hearing needs. They are committed to helping you have the best experience possible, and will work to ensure you’re happy and comfortable.

Research has established a relationship between hearing loss and dementia. There is strong evidence that hearing loss accelerates brain-tissue atrophy, particularly in areas of the brain that auditory nerves would stimulate but can’t because they aren’t receiving a signal (due to a hearing loss). These areas of the brain are also related to memory and speech.

Individuals with a mild hearing loss are three times as likely to fall down than those without, and the likelihood of falls increases as the degree of hearing loss increases.