Hearing Loss in Adults

HealthLinkBC File Number: 
Last Updated: 
February 2017
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Hearing is one of our most important senses. It helps us to communicate, to be warned about danger, and to be aware of the world around us.

Nearly 1 out of every 4 Canadian adults reports some degree of hearing loss or hearing disability. The prevalence of hearing loss rises with age. About 65 per cent of people over the age of 70 have hearing problems.

What are the signs that you may have a hearing loss?

You may have a hearing loss if you find that you often:

  • ask people to repeat themselves or speak louder;
  • have difficulty understanding or following conversations in quiet or noisy places; or
  • you have to concentrate to understand what people say.

What are the different types of hearing loss?

There are 2 types of hearing loss; conductive hearing loss and sensorineural hearing loss. A person can have hearing loss that is part conductive and part sensorineural.

Conductive Hearing Loss

A problem in the outer or middle part of the ear may cause a conductive hearing loss. This may be caused by a wax blockage, punctured eardrum or an ear infection. Conductive hearing loss is usually temporary and can often be treated medically.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss

A problem with the inner part of the ear or hearing nerve may cause a sensorineural hearing loss. This type of hearing loss tends to be permanent.

Aging is the number one cause of sensorineural hearing loss. It can also be caused by very loud noise, disease, injury, certain medicines, or it can be congenital. Congenital hearing loss refers to hearing loss that was present when you were born. Congenital hearing loss can be hereditary (genetic) or it can be the result of other factors or conditions.

With sensorineural hearing loss, sound may seem either too soft or too loud. Speech may seem muffled or unclear, and can be difficult to understand. You may also have ringing, hissing, or clicking noises in your ear.

Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss

This type of hearing loss is commonly known as sudden deafness. It is most often an unexplained, rapid loss of hearing in one or both ears that happens it all at once or over a couple of days. The most common causes are viral or bacterial infections, drugs that harm the sensory cells in the inner ear or autoimmune diseases. The most common treatment for sudden sensorineural hearing loss is with corticosteroids.

This type of hearing loss should be considered a medical emergency. Anyone who experiences these symptoms should visit a health care provider immediately.

People may tend to put off seeing a health care provider because thinking their hearing loss is due to allergies, a sinus infection, etc. However, the longer this condition goes without being treated, the less effective treatment will be.

What should I do if I think I have a hearing loss?

If you think you have a hearing loss, you should make an appointment with your health care provider who may refer you to one of the following professionals:

  • Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) Doctor – An ENT Doctor is a medical specialist in diseases of the ear, nose, throat, and related concerns.
  • Audiologist – An Audiologist tests hearing and diagnoses hearing loss. Audiologists also prescribe, dispense and fit hearing aids, and offer hearing rehabilitation and counseling.
  • Hearing Instrument Practitioner – A Hearing Instrument Practitioner tests hearing, prescribes, dispenses and fits hearing aids.

You can also make an appointment directly with an Audiologist or a Hearing Instrument Practitioner without a referral.

If your hearing seems to deteriorate or drop rapidly (over the span of 1 to 3 days) you should seek emergency medical attention immediately.

Will a hearing aid help?

Hearing aids do not cure hearing loss but they do help improve your hearing and your ability to communicate. A hearing aid is a small battery-powered electronic device that is programmed specifically to meet the needs of a person’s individual hearing loss and can be adapted to different situational needs (such as work environments).

People with hearing loss can improve communication with a properly fitted hearing aid, counselling or environmental changes.

There are many different makes, models, styles and prices of hearing aids. Some fit behind the ear, some are worn at the opening of the ear, and some go completely into the ear canal.

One aid may work better for you than another. It is important that you speak with an Audiologist or Hearing Instrument Practitioner about the best hearing aid for your needs.

Some people have special needs that may require additional devices. You should discuss your needs with a hearing health professional.

Do I have to pay for a hearing aid?

Hearing aids are not covered under the Medical Services Plan (MSP). There are a number of funding options including individual Extended Health Benefit plans, WorkSafeBC, and Veterans’ Affairs Canada. Individuals with low incomes or on disability benefits may qualify for financial aid through a government assistance program. Your Audiologist or Hearing Instrument Practitioner can advise you of possible funding options.

What are the impacts of hearing loss on older adults?

When hearing loss remains un-treated in older adults, they may become:

  • withdrawn and socially isolated which can lead to risk of depression;
  • are at an increased risk of cognitive decline and developing Alzheimer’s disease and/or other forms of dementia; and
  • are at greater risk of falling which increases with the severity of the hearing loss.

For More Information

Contact the College of Speech and Hearing Health Professionals of BC for a list of Audiologists and Hearing Instrument Practitioners in your area or visit www.cshhpbc.org/ to view the registry online.

Visit BC Association of Speech Language Pathologists and Audiologists at www.bcaslpa.ca.

Is it an emergency?

If you or someone in your care has chest pains, difficulty breathing, or severe bleeding, it could be a life-threatening emergency. Call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number immediately.
If you are concerned about a possible poisoning or exposure to a toxic substance, call Poison Control now at 1-800-567-8911.

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