Hearing Loss

Hearing loss is a common condition that affects millions of people worldwide. It can occur due to a variety of factors, including age, genetics, exposure to loud noise, and certain medical conditions.

Incidence of Hearing Loss in the U.S.

Hearing loss is a prevalent health issue in the United States, ranking as the third most common health problem. Recent studies conducted by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) reveal concerning statistics regarding the incidence of hearing loss:

  • Approximately 48 million American adults (nearly 20% of the population) aged 18 and over experience some degree of hearing impairment.
  • Out of every 1,000 children born in the US, two to three are born with detectable levels of hearing loss in one or both ears, accounting for around 12,000 infants annually.
  • One in eight individuals in the US (around 30 million) aged 12 years or older has hearing loss in both ears, making it a widespread issue.
  • Roughly 22% of adults aged 20-69 have speech-frequency hearing loss in both ears, resulting from at least five years of work-related exposure to loud noise.
  • Around 28.8 million American adults could benefit from the use of hearing aids
  • Among adults in the 20 to 69-year age bracket, men are nearly twice as likely as women to experience hearing loss, highlighting a gender disparity in the incidence of this condition.

These updated statistics emphasize the importance of raising awareness about hearing loss and promoting early intervention and prevention strategies to reduce its impact on individuals and society.

Anatomy of the Ear

The mechanics of the human ear are split between three parts: the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear. 

Normal human hearing is achieved when sound waves traveling through air are converted to electrochemical signals in the ear and sent to the brain. The sound waves enter the body through the outer ear and reach the eardrum through the auditory canal (ear canal). 

Vibrations of the eardrum are then amplified by the bones in the middle ear and forwarded to the cochlea in the inner ear. Chemical reactions within the inner ear then convert the vibrations into electrical signals for the brain to recognize.

Symptoms and Causes of Hearing Loss

The symptoms and causes of hearing loss can vary depending on the type and severity of the condition. Some common symptoms of hearing loss include:

  • Muffled speech
  • Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • Difficulty hearing in background noise
  • Feeling that others do not speak clearly

Factors that can cause hearing loss include:

  • Age
  • Side effects from medication
  • Tumors affecting auditory capabilities
  • Heart conditions or stroke

Understanding the Types of Hearing Loss

The type of hearing loss experienced by an individual differs based on what part of the ear is affected. There are four major types of hearing loss.

Conductive Hearing Loss

Conductive hearing loss occurs when sound waves are not conducted efficiently through the outer and/or middle ear. This type of hearing loss can often be temporary or permanent, depending on the underlying cause.


Some common symptoms of conductive hearing loss include:

  • Difficulty hearing soft sounds
  • Muffled speech
  • Pain or pressure in one or both ears


Conductive hearing loss can be caused by several factors, including:

  • Ear infections
  • Fluid accumulation in the middle ear
  • Impacted earwax
  • Malformation of the outer or middle ear structures
  • Perforated eardrum

Progression Over Time

If left untreated, conductive hearing loss can worsen, leading to complications, such as chronic ear infections or permanent damage to the middle ear structures. Early intervention is crucial to prevent long-term consequences.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when there is a problem with the sensory receptors of the hearing system, specifically in the cochlea of the inner ear. This type of hearing loss is typically permanent and can range from mild to profound.


Common symptoms of sensorineural hearing loss include:

  • Difficulty understanding speech, especially in noisy environments
  • Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • Difficulty hearing high-pitched sounds
  • A feeling of fullness in the ear


Sensorineural hearing loss can be caused by several factors, such as:

  • Genetics
  • Infections
  • Drugs that are toxic to the ear (ototoxic)
  • Trauma to the head or ear
  • Over-exposure to loud noise

Progression Over Time

Sensorineural hearing loss is typically progressive, meaning it worsens over time. Early intervention with hearing aids or cochlear implants can help maintain communication abilities and prevent further deterioration of hearing.

Mixed Hearing Loss

Mixed hearing loss occurs when there is a combination of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss. This type of hearing loss can present varying degrees of severity and can be treated with a combination of approaches.


The symptoms of mixed hearing loss can include a combination of the symptoms seen in conductive and sensorineural hearing loss. These may include:

  • Difficulty hearing soft and high-pitched sounds
  • Muffled speech
  • Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • Pain or pressure in one or both ears


Mixed hearing loss can be caused by a combination of factors that affect both the outer/middle ear and the inner ear, such as:

  • Ear infections
  • Noise-induced damage
  • Malformation of the ear structures and genetic factors

Progression Over Time

The progression of mixed hearing loss depends on the underlying causes and the effectiveness of treatment. Regular monitoring and early intervention can help manage the condition and prevent further hearing loss.

Neural Hearing Loss

Neural hearing loss occurs when the auditory nerve that carries signals from the cochlea to the brain is missing or abnormal. This type of hearing loss is typically permanent and can range from mild to severe.


Symptoms of neural hearing loss can include:

  • Difficulty understanding speech
  • Tinnitus
  • Balance issues


Neural hearing loss can be caused by several factors, such as:

  • Genetics
  • Acoustic tumors
  • In-utero exposure to certain infections
  • Severe jaundice in infancy
  • Low birth weight due to premature birth

Progression Over Time

Neural hearing loss typically does not improve over time. Early intervention with amplification devices, such as hearing aids or cochlear implants, can help improve communication skills and prevent further decline in auditory processing.

Importance of Timely Treatment for Hearing Loss

Addressing hearing loss on time is crucial for several reasons, as it can significantly impact a person's quality of life, physical health, and emotional well-being. Here are some key reasons why timely treatment for hearing loss is essential:

Improved Communication and Social Interaction

Untreated hearing loss can lead to difficulties in communication and social interactions, which can result in feelings of isolation, frustration, and depression. 

Timely treatment can help individuals regain their ability to communicate effectively and enjoy social experiences, ultimately promoting a more fulfilling and active lifestyle.

Cognitive Health

Recent studies have shown a link between untreated hearing loss and cognitive decline or dementia. By addressing hearing loss early, individuals can help maintain their cognitive function and slow the development of cognitive issues.

Safety and Awareness

Decreased hearing can make it difficult for individuals to recognize important sounds, such as alarms, sirens, or even someone calling out for help. Timely treatment of hearing loss can improve a person's ability to stay safe and aware of their surroundings.

Better Overall Quality of Life

Addressing hearing loss promptly can lead to an overall improvement in the quality of life. Individuals who seek timely treatment can experience increased self-confidence, reduced stress, and enhanced emotional well-being.

Seeking Help for Hearing Loss in Massachusetts

If you suspect that you or a loved one may be experiencing hearing loss, it is crucial to consult with a licensed hearing instrument specialist. By seeking help early, you can minimize the negative effects of hearing loss and improve your overall quality of life. 

Ken Pruyn is a Licensed Hearing Instrument Specialist with over 14 years of experience. He is passionate about helping you hear clearly. Ken prides himself on taking the time to find the hearing solution that works best for you. 

If you need over-the-counter or OTC hearing aids, Ken can help find a hearing solution that works for you.

You can request an appointment online or call us at (508) 794-3620 to arrange an in-office appointment at any of our eight Massachusetts offices: Framingham, Marlborough, Concord, Waltham, Newton, Dedham, Quincy, and Hingham.

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