Approximately 36 million Americans suffer from hearing loss, making it one of the most common physical conditions in the U.S. Often associated with the elderly, in reality more than half of all hearing loss patients are younger than 65. Prevalence does increase with age, however; 1 in 3 people over the age of 60 have hearing loss, and that number jumps to 1 in 2 by the age of 75. Approximately 6 of every 1,000 babies are born with a significant hearing problem – that’s more than 4,000 babies every year.
Hearing loss is caused by a variety of factors. Exposure to excessively loud sounds and deterioration resulting from the normal aging process are most common. Other causes can include ear infections, trauma, inner ear disease, ototoxic medications, and hereditary factors.
The ability to communicate is our most human-like characteristic. Hearing loss usually develops gradually, and it is not always easy to determine if you are experiencing it. Most hearing losses are more or less noticeable depending on the circumstances, such as room acoustics, group settings, or amount of background noise present. This can lead others to believe that you selectively listen or don’t care what others are saying. Often, people discover their hearing loss from the reactions of friends or family members. The isolation can be frightening and lonely. It can make them feel helpless, frustrated and resentful. Untreated hearing loss has been linked to depression, social withdrawal and even dementia.
Fortunately, most types of hearing loss can be treated with hearing aids or other assistive listening devices, such as cochlear implants and BAHA devices. In a few cases, the solution may be as simple as removing impacted earwax or as simple as wearing hearing protection devices.