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What is Gradual Hearing Loss?

woman sitting for hearing test with specialist

When you think of hearing loss, chances are you picture an elderly person with hearing aids. Hearing loss is often associated with the aging process, but in reality, there are several different types of hearing loss. Gradual hearing loss can happen to anyone at any age. 

Types of Hearing Loss

Hearing loss is categorized according to permanency and speed of onset. Conductive hearing loss is usually temporary. Causes can include a punctured eardrum, or buildup of earwax or fluid. These blockages prevent sound waves from reaching the inner ear. Medical professionals can remove earwax and perform surgery to restore hearing. 

Sensorineural hearing loss is often permanent, as it is caused by damage to the inner ear. 

In some cases, hearing loss can occur suddenly. The causes of sudden hearing loss are not fully known, but possible causes include:

  • Bacterial and viral infections
  • Head trauma
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Circulation issues
  • Neurological diseases
  • Migraines
  • Inner ear disorders

If you experience sudden hearing loss, you must seek medical attention right away. Early treatment improves the chances of regaining hearing. The most common type of hearing loss is gradual hearing loss. Gradual hearing loss happens slowly over time. When gradual hearing loss is related to the aging process, it is known as presbycusis.

How Does Gradual Hearing Loss Happen?

Normal hearing is defined as hearing sounds ranging from zero to 25dBs. If you are not able to hear in this range, you are considered to have hearing loss. Gradual hearing loss is a type of sensorineural hearing loss that is non-reversible. Tiny hair cells within the inner ear are integral to helping you hear. The outer hair cells are responsible for amplifying sound waves while the inner hair cells are in charge of converting sound waves into electrical signals that are passed from the auditory nerve to the brain. 

Once these hair cells are damaged and die, they cannot be regrown. Hair cells are damaged by two main factors: loud noise and natural aging. Thus, gradual hearing loss can happen prematurely if you regularly listen to loud music, work on a construction site without ear protection, or are around loud noises often.

Getting Tested for Gradual Hearing Loss

If you’re over 65 years of age or have a history of being exposed to loud noises, it’s a good idea to contact a local hearing instrument specialist and schedule a hearing test. If you’re experiencing gradual hearing loss, you may not even be aware that you’re having trouble hearing like you used to. Because the change is slow and takes place over a long period of time, the day-to-day difference in hearing is not obvious. 

A hearing test may involve the following two components: a pitch test and a speech test. During the pitch test, you will listen to different pitches and identify the ones you can hear. As hearing loss occurs, high pitches are more difficult to hear. During the speech test, you’ll be asked to repeat back the phrases that are spoken (at different volumes) through headphones. The results of this test will help your hearing instrument specialist determine if you would benefit from a hearing assistance device, such as hearing aids. 

While gradual hearing loss is normal, it is preventable to an extent. By protecting your ears from loud sounds, you can decrease the speed of decline considerably.