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Around 3.6 million Australians are affected by hearing loss – that’s one in six – and hearing loss is in fact the second most common medical condition, more common than cancer, heart disease, diabetes and asthma. It is on the increase (see below), with 25% of the population projected to be affected by 2050.

The biggest cause of hearing loss is exposure to loud noise over a period of time. This is largely preventable. Called noise-induced hearing loss, it is caused by damage to the inner ear (the ‘cochlea’ – more information on the cochlea here) by constant exposure to noise, which can be anything from noise in the workplace to common noise sources in daily life, such as cars, aircraft etc.

A major contributing factor to hearing loss, where we are unlikely to see the full impact until the current younger generation hit their 50s and 60s, is listening to music on personal devices such as iPods/smartphones through earbuds and headphones. Even going to nightclubs and live concerts has an impact on hearing and contributes to hearing loss.*

Although noise-induced hearing loss is the most common, there are other causes of hearing loss. These include:

  • Middle ear infections
  • Genetic/inherited hearing conditions
  • Wax buildup in the ear or another form of blockage
  • Head injuries/trauma
  • Surgery in/on the head
  • Some chemicals/medications (eg some chemotherapy drugs, some antibiotics and some erectile dysfunction drugs)
  • Some conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure can restrict blood flow to the ears and affect hearing

(see also our section on ear diseases and infections)

Hearing also naturally declines with age (the medical term ‘presbycusis’ describes age-related hearing loss), with one in three people aged 65-74 affected, rising to one in two over the age of 75.

There are four types of hearing loss, and four grades of level of hearing loss.

Types of hearing loss

Auditory Processing Disorders

This is where the brain has difficulty processing the content of sound, despite the ear transmitting the auditory signals in a normal way. These disorders make it hard for sufferers to understand conversations or to work out which direction sound is coming from.

Conductive Hearing Loss

Conductive Hearing Loss is where an issue in the outer ear or middle ear (or both) prevents sounds being transmitted (or ‘conducted’) to the inner ear. This can be caused by a number of conditions, such as infection, ear wax, a perforated ear drum or any abnormal growth in the ear like cholesteatoma or otosclerosis.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss

This refers to a problem in the inner ear (cochlea) or the auditory nerve itself linking the cochlea to the brain. Unlike the other type of hearing loss, sensorineural hearing loss is normally permanent.

Mixed Hearing Loss

As the term implies, this is where hearing loss is caused by a combination of conductive hearing loss and sensorineural hearing loss.

Grades of hearing loss

Mild hearing loss

Where background noise affects the listener’s ability to hear a one-on-one conversation properly and a few words are ‘missed’.

Moderate hearing loss

Where the listener cannot hear conversations well either face-to-face or on the telephone, and may often ask for things to be repeated.

Severe hearing loss

Where the listener is unable to follow conversation without a hearing aid.

Profound hearing loss

Where the listener can only hear shouted (or very loud) conversation. A hearing aid (or cochlear implant) is needed to hear any other type of conversation.

If you believe you may be suffering from hearing loss contact Dr Chang who can arrange for your hearing to be tested.

*for more information on the risk of noise affecting your hearing, visit this site…