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Hear Ye, Hear Ye, Read All About It

We humans rely on our senses to function in the world.  They guide us to our destination, allow us to appreciate the wonders in creation, help protect us from danger, and the list goes on.


Regrettably, our senses can become compromised, especially as the years pass on.  For example, smells may dull, eyesight might not be as crisp, and even taste buds can alter.


One sense that particularly has the ability to weaken is hearing.  Words that once were clear could sound muffled, background noise might be indistinguishable, and even loud voices can seem different.  Hearing loss is usually grouped into two broad categories: sensorineural and conductive.  Sensorineural loss takes place when the inner ear (or nerve) experiences some type of damage.  Conductive loss occurs when sound waves do not travel properly to the inner ear.


It’s important to point out, nonetheless, that hearing loss can occur at any age.  Let’s look at some of the more common causes.


  • Congenital defects.  There are multiple reasons why a person could be born with a predisposition towards diminished hearing.  The situation can be rooted in genetic factors, birth defects, infections, viruses, etc.
  • Illness.  Childhood illnesses, like scarlet fever, measles, and meningitis, might result in hearing impairment.  Sometimes the loss is reversible, other times it is not.
  • Injury.  Injuries or trauma to the head and/or ears can negatively impact hearing: swimming accidents, scuba diving mishaps, sports collisions, loud fireworks, blasting noises, and explosions are a few examples.  Remember George Bailey in “It’s A Wonderful Life”?  His plunge into the icy water to save his brother Harry left him deaf in his left ear.
  • Age-related.  It’s estimated that over 40% of men and women age 75 have some measure of diminished hearing; the problem tends to be more common in males.  Sometimes something as simple as earwax can be to blame; once the wax is removed, the problem resolves.  Other causes, like presbycusis, (cumulative ear changes rooted in other illnesses or reasons), might not be as simple to address.


Naturally, a physician should evaluate individuals who suspect they are becoming hard of hearing.  If the circumstances warrant, an audiologist (hearing specialist) will be recommended.


Regrettably, a number of people, especially seniors, periodically shut themselves off from social situations because they cannot fully understand what is being said and feel embarrassed asking people to continually repeat themselves.  Yet, in a number of cases, hearing loss can be stopped or greatly improved (e.g., hearing aid).  Remarkably, there is even an electronic device available that can reverse deafness in certain individuals.  It’s called a cochlear implant, and this incredible discovery has opened up a fascinating world to many people.

For additional information regarding hearing loss, go to http://www.hear-it.org/.

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