More than 21 million Americans suffer from hearing impairment. Hearing loss is defined as any alteration of hearing capacity. According to University of California-San Francisco medical specialists, hearing loss can be of various degrees, including mild, moderate, severe, profound and total.

Hearing loss can be classified as four different types: conductive, sensorineural, central and mixed hearing loss. Conductive hearing loss can be characterized by the loss of sound conduction to the inner ear (cochlea). It can result from a blockage of wax, a punctured eardrum, birth defects, ear infections, or heredity. It can be either temporary or permanent, but is often treatable with medication or surgery.

Karin Haugrud / Seniors on the Move
Karin Haugrud / Seniors on the Move

Nerve,” or sensorineural, hearing loss involves damage to the inner ear. It can be caused by aging, birth-related complications, viral or bacterial infections, heredity, trauma, exposure to loud noises, the use of certain drugs, fluid buildup or a benign tumor in the inner ear. This is usually permanent loss of hearing sensitivity, often more in the high frequencies or pitches than the lower. Sensorineural hearing loss usually affects the ability to understand conversations, especially in difficult listening situations. It affects men more than women, due to job placement and social activities rather than genetic makeup. This kind of hearing loss can successfully be treated with hearing aids.

People who have central hearing loss find it difficult to understand and comprehend conversations when there is background noise. Mixed hearing loss is any combination of the other types of hearing loss.

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WebMD defines a hearing aid as an electronic device that picks up sound waves with a tiny microphone. The microphone makes weaker sounds louder and sends them to the ear through a tiny speaker. Because a hearing aid is an amplification device, a person must have some hearing to benefit from its use. In addition, because hearing loss has a variety of patterns and degrees of severity and affects people in different ways, no single hearing aid is right for everyone.

Research at the Mayo Clinic has found that hearing loss can have a significant effect on your quality of life. Older adults with hearing loss report feelings of depression, and because hearing loss can make conversation difficult, some people experience feelings of isolation. Hearing loss is also associated with cognitive impairment and decline.

The Food and Drug Administration recommends you have your ears examined by a licensed physician to ensure there are no underlying diseases or medical problems causing hearing loss. Hearing loss may be a symptom of another medical problem that needs a doctor’s attention.

Have your hearing tested to assess your ability to hear with and without a hearing aid. This will enable your hearing professional to select and fit a hearing aid to your individual needs. Many manufacturers and hearing specialists recommend that consumers be given at least a 30-day trial period with only a small service fee if the consumer returns the product.

This article is made possible with Older Americans Act dollars from the regional Dancing Sky Area Agency on Aging. Call the Senior LinkAge Line at 1-800-333-2433 to speak with an information specialist.