Hearing Health: FAQs

Explore frequently asked questions about hearing aids

What causes hearing loss?

Hearing loss can be caused by several different factors. The most common cause, scientifically called presbycusis, means that aging or genetics are causing your hearing to slowly decline over time, similar to many people's experience with their eyesight.

You could also experience noise-induced hearing loss. This type of hearing loss is a result of over-exposure to loud sounds. Even sounds over 85 decibels can cause permanent hearing damage after 15 minutes of exposure—that's about as loud as the average lawnmower!

If you have earwax, or another object blocking our ear canal, that could be causing hearing loss as well. Usually not permanent, this is known as conductive hearing loss and can usually be cured with the proper course of treatment.

Some less common causes of hearing loss may be linked to high blood pressure, diabetes, medicinal reactions, and more. You should always consult your hearing healthcare provider if you think you may be experiencing hearing loss due to a medical condition.

How common is hearing loss?

According to current statistics, hearing loss affects:

  • 20% of adults in the U.S.
  • 67% of people over age 75
  • 33% of people over age 65
  • 14% of people ages 45-64
  • 15% of children ages 6-19

Overall, almost 36 million Americans suffer from hearing loss. That's approximately 1 in 8 people! Keep in mind that 60% of people who have hearing loss are below retirement age.

What are the common symptoms of hearing loss?
  • You are constantly asking people to repeat themselves
  • You have difficulty while having a conversation in a noisy environment
  • You often mishear words
  • It seems as though many of the people in your life mumble
  • People are always telling you to turn the TV down
  • It's very difficult to understand the person on the other end of the phone
  • You have a constant annoying ringing or buzzing in your ears
  • Most importantly: friends and family members have asked you to get your hearing checked.

IMPORTANT: If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, seek medical attention as soon as possible:

  • Sudden hearing loss
  • Blood or fluid draining from your ears
  • Sudden onset of dizziness
  • Fluctuating hearing loss
  • Head trauma
  • Severe earache or feeling of intense pressure

Are there different kinds of hearing loss?

Yes! There are three different types of hearing loss, as determined by where in your ear the problem lies.

Types of hearing loss:

  • Conductive Hearing Loss: Sound can't travel from the outer ear (the part you can see) to the inner ear (the part you can't see). This is often the result of wax build-up, trauma to the ear, or even ear infections. Typically, conductive hearing loss “turns the volume down” but doesn't necessarily affect the clarity of your hearing. Conductive hearing losses may also be corrected by medical intervention so it is always important to make an appointment with an ear, nose, and throat specialist for further consultation.
  • Sensorineural Hearing Loss: With sensorineural hearing loss, the problem may be damage to the inner ear (cochlea) or within the hearing nerve. Most of the time, the hair cells in the inner ear have been worn down due to aging or noise exposure, but sometimes, medications, cancer treatments or illness can create deterioration as well. With sensorineural loss, it's not just that “the volume is turned down,” but your ability to understand speech suffers too. This is the most common type of hearing loss as 90% of people with hearing loss have this kind. The most effective treatment is hearing devices.
  • Mixed Hearing Loss: Just like it sounds, this is a mixture of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss.
What are the degrees of hearing loss?

The degree of hearing loss is determined during your hearing evaluation, and the results are shown in an audiogram. Your hearing evaluation rates the highness or lowness in pitch that is difficult for you to hear, and how loud sounds have to be before you can pick up on them. Based on that, your EarQ provider will figure out your degree of hearing loss.

The different levels of hearing loss are:

Mild: This means that you may have some trouble hearing conversations in a noisy room or when someone is speaking quietly. In quiet environments, mild hearing loss is manageable.

Moderate: This degree of hearing loss makes it even harder to hear conversation in group settings. People with moderate loss are those that have the TV and radio turned up too loud for comfort.

Moderately Severe: Hearing and understanding speech is significantly reduced at this level and group environments are an extreme challenge.

Severe: This degree of hearing loss means that normal conversation is not audible. Even shouting can be challenging to comprehend.

Profound: This is the greatest degree of hearing loss. Only the loudest sounds are audible and even shouting may not be heard at all.

How can I prevent my hearing loss from getting worse?

Hearing loss cannot always be prevented; however, there are important things you can do to ensure you are making your hearing health a priority and taking precautionary measures.

  • Use hearing aids to address your hearing loss! If you lift weights and exercise your muscles, the nerves fire to the muscle and keep it strong. If you don't exercise your muscles, they'll weaken and atrophy. That's why it's important to use hearing aids to stimulate the hearing nerve. This helps the clarity of your hearing stay as much intact as it can. Hearing aids make the most out of the hearing ability you have left and keep your brain's ability to recognize speech in top shape. Make an appointment here.
  • Limit your noise exposure. If you work in a noisy environment or plan to attend a loud event, like a concert, then ear protection is a must. Regular earplugs provide some protection, which is better than nothing, but most hearing care providers can fit you with custom earplugs for maximum comfort and protection.
  • Get annual hearing tests so you can monitor your hearing health and take action as soon as any changes occur.
Can my family practice doctor test my hearing?

The simple answer is yes. Some family practice doctors have the ability to screen your hearing at their office, which is a simple pass or fail screening, but may not be able to tell you the degree or severity of your hearing loss. They may also suggest a hearing evaluation as part of your yearly physical, although it's more likely that you'll have to request one. (According to the Center for Hearing and Communication, only about 16% of physicians routinely screen for hearing loss.) Either way, if you're experiencing hearing loss, your doctor will have to refer you to a hearing healthcare provider for treatment.

If you'd prefer to make just one appointment instead of going to your doctor and then to your EarQ provider, you can come directly to us for your hearing evaluation.

What are the treatment options for hearing loss?

Depending on your symptoms, if your hearing loss is caused by a blockage like a wax buildup (conductive hearing loss), then having it cleared by your hearing healthcare professional could drastically improve your hearing ability. However, the most common hearing loss originates from damage to the sensory organ and/or nerve in the inner ear (sensorineural hearing loss), and nerve damage is permanent. The good news is that 95% of sensorineural hearing loss cases can be effectively helped through the use of hearing aids. Your local hearing healthcare professional can help you find hearing aids that fit your degree of hearing loss, needs, and lifestyle.

How do I understand my hearing test results?
Example Audiogram

When an EarQ professional tests your hearing, they'll fill out a chart called an audiogram. This is a visual representation of your hearing loss illustrating which pitches you have difficulty hearing and how loud sounds need to be in order for you to hear them. Pitch is measured in Hertz (Hz), and loudness is measured in Decibels (dB).

Based on your audiogram, your EarQ professional will be able to tell the type of hearing loss you have (conductive, sensorineural, or mixed) and the degree of hearing loss, if you have normal hearing or if you have mild, moderate, moderately severe, severe or profound hearing loss. This result will determine whether or not you need a medical referral or hearing aids and, if you do, which type is right for you.

Why can't I understand speech in crowded environments?

Most people lose their ability to hear high frequency sounds first, as the area of the inner ear is most damaged due to everyday noises. High frequency sounds in speech are softer consonants that do not have a lot of power behind them, such as /s/, /f/, /t/, /k/, /p/. These tend to be sounds at the beginning or ending of words and may be perceived as a difference of hearing 'cat' vs. 'cap.' As a result, any loud or distracting noises make it difficult for you to comprehend what is being said. EarQ hearing aids feature innovative technology that reduce background noise in the tiny pauses between syllables of speech so that it's easier to understand a conversation in a noisy environment.

Why can't I hear women and children's voices clearly?

Similar to the reason it’s often hard for people with hearing loss to hear in crowded environments, you’re most likely experiencing these difficulties due to a hearing loss in high frequencies. Women and children have slightly higher-pitched voices than men do, so more of their speech patterns may be falling exactly within the range of your hearing loss.

Is it possible to have hearing loss in only one ear?

Yes, although it’s not very common. The vast majority of people with hearing loss have a loss in both ears (bilateral loss). However, some causes of hearing loss in only one ear (unilateral loss) may be:

  • Congenital or genetics
  • Illness or infection
  • Head or ear trauma

Some people also may have a hearing loss in one ear that is so severe with poor clarity that a conventional hearing aid will not help, but instead, will make things distorted. This is called single-sided deafness, or SSD. There are specific hearing aids that may help route sounds from the poor ear over to the good ear using Bluetooth technology. Your hearing healthcare provider will be able to identify this at your evaluation appointment and talk to you about the appropriate options. If you think you may be experiencing unilateral or bilateral loss, make an appointment with your local EarQ provider.

I only miss a word or two occasionally... do I have hearing loss?

While a small amount of hearing loss is normal, especially during the aging process, no amount of hearing loss should be taken lightly. If you’re only missing a few words here and there, you could still fall into a normal hearing range. If it’s more serious than that, though, it’s not a good idea to wait any longer to have your hearing checked. Make an appointment with your local EarQ professional if there’s any question in your mind.

Either way, it’s recommended that you get an annual hearing test, just like you have an annual physician’s checkup. This will allow you to monitor your hearing health and take action as soon as you notice any changes.

Why do I hear better when I look at the speaker?

People who are generally unaware of their hearing loss will often notice that when they can see someone speak, they understand them better. Without even realizing it, you're engaging in some natural speechreading. Technically, speechreading is the process of visually detecting non-vocalized sounds (those which don't require breath behind them, like consonants) at the same time as using residual hearing and auditory cues. Therefore, your brain is using a combination of what you can hear and what you can see in order to better understand.

Will my hearing loss worsen over time?

It depends on the type of hearing loss you're experiencing. For the majority of people who have hearing loss, it will get worse with time. Whether you have hearing loss from continued noise exposure or it's simply a combination of aging and genetics, time is not on your side. This is why it's important to visit a hearing provider at your earliest convenience and treat any hearing loss you may be experiencing.

Does earwax cause hearing loss?

Absolutely. Earwax can build up or become impacted and then partially or completely block your ear canal. In fact, earwax is the most common cause of conductive hearing loss.

Your hearing provider can quickly and easily deal with excess wax. If you're worried that you're producing too much earwax and it's affecting your hearing ability, make an appointment.

Note: the use of cotton swabs to clean your ear canals is NOT recommended by hearing healthcare professionals. It can actually be the cause of earwax buildup!

Is it okay to use cotton swabs to clean my ears?

Unless you're using the cotton swab to clean the very outside of your ear (the part that sticks out from your head), the answer is no.

Your ear canal is self-cleaning, and a little earwax actually helps to keep things like dirt and dust from getting to the important parts of the ear. There's a layer of tissue that lines your ear canal and grows outward at about the same pace as your hair and nails. Dirt, dust, and other unwanted things migrate out with cerumen on its own towards the outside of the ear before they can reach the area of your ear that could be damaged by them. When you use a cotton swab to clean your ear, in addition to the risk of harming the canal or eardrum, you also risk pushing the wax in further and causing more build-up and possibly impaction.

When should I get hearing aids?

As soon as you or a loved one notices a change in your hearing. If left untreated, hearing loss will continue to degenerate, negatively affecting your quality of life. Untreated hearing loss leads to depression, feelings of social isolation, and relationship strains with loved ones. Why wait and allow it to get worse?

Schedule an appointment with your local provider to get started.