Adult Hearing Loss
Hearing occurs when sound waves reach tiny sensors or hair cells of the inner ear. The hair cells convert the sound vibrations into electrical impulses that are transmitted along the hearing nerve to your brain where they are interpreted as sound.
It is estimated that one in six people in Australia have hearing loss, rising to almost one in two for those over 70.
Hearing loss in adults is often accompanied by ringing or buzzing noises in the ear called tinnitus
Hearing loss can have a significant impact on your quality of life. It can interfere with family relationships, cause social isolation and affect your ability to work safely.
What is the Cause of Hearing Loss?
Common causes of hearing loss are aging and exposure to loud noise.
Hearing loss that occurs gradually as you age is known as age related hearing loss or presbycusis. It occurs due to wear and tear causing degeneration of the hair cells in the inner ear.
Exposure to loud noise also damages the inner ear hair cells. Noise exposure includes such things as listening to loud music, exposure to recreational or occupational noise and use of firearms.
Your genetic makeup influences how susceptible you are to inner ear damage from age changes and noise exposure.
How Can I Prevent Hearing Loss?
There are some steps you can take to prevent hearing loss due to noise exposure and minimize the progression of age-related hearing loss.
These include wearing hearing protection in the workplace, avoidance of recreational noise such as loud music and wearing hearing protection at home when using power tools. You can also monitor your hearing to detect hearing loss early on so you can take steps to prevent further hearing loss.
How is Hearing Loss Diagnosed?
Your WestsideENT specialist will carry out a comprehensive assessment and arrange for you to have an audiogram and other tests such as a CT scan or MRI scan, if indicated.
What is the Treatment for Hearing Loss?
Treatment depends on the cause and severity of your hearing loss. Treating your hearing loss can improve your quality of life. If your hearing loss is due to inner ear damage, a hearing aid can help.
Your WestsideENT specialist will work with you and your audiologist to improve what you’re able to hear.
Sudden loss of hearing, particularly in one ear, requires urgent treatment. You should see your GP urgently as early intervention can improve the chance of hearing recovery.
What is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is the sensation or awareness of sound in one or both ears that is not caused by an actual external sound. It is a symptom of an underlying condition rather than a condition itself. Tinnitus is often described as a hum, hiss, buzz or whistle but it can be any noise. It is very common.
We don’t fully understand the reasons for tinnitus but we believe it involves abnormal electrical signals somewhere along the auditory pathway from the inner ear to the auditory cortex in the brain.
What Causes Tinnitus?
Tinnitus commonly results from damage to the inner ear hair cells as part of age-related hearing loss or exposure to loud noise. Some medical conditions can cause or worsen tinnitus but, in many cases, an exact cause is never found.
In rare cases, tinnitus in one ear can be due to a more serious condition such as a tumour on the hearing and balance nerve.
How is Tinnitus Investigated?
At WestsideENT, your specialist will examine your ears to look for possible causes of tinnitus and arrange for you to have a diagnostic hearing test. Depending on the suspected cause of your tinnitus, further tests such as a CT or MRI scan may be needed.
How is Tinnitus Treated?
If an underlying treatable condition is found, your WestsideENT specialist will discuss this with you, including treatment options.
Often, tinnitus can’t be specifically treated. While many people get used to the tinnitus over time, for some people, the tinnitus can be very intrusive.
Strategies to help cope with the tinnitus include lifestyle changes such as reduction of alcohol, nicotine and caffeine, avoidance of loud noise and stress management.
Sound therapy or masking involves increasing background noise to help distract the brain from the tinnitus. This may take the form of tinnitus apps, white noise generators or using a fan, air conditioner, radio or television. A hearing aid can also be useful if you have hearing loss as well.
Undergoing counselling to learn coping strategies to make tinnitus less annoying can be helpful. Counselling can also help manage anxiety and depression which are often linked to tinnitus.
Your WestsideENT specialist will discuss strategies with you to reduce the severity of your tinnitus and help you cope better with the noise.
What is vertigo?
Dizziness is a broad, non-specific term used to describe a wide range of sensations such as feeling faint, light headed, or woozy. These sensations are often due to medical conditions such as heart disease, low blood pressure or low blood sugar rather than a problem in the balance system. Medication side effects can also make you feel dizzy.
Dizziness that makes you feel that you or your surroundings are spinning or moving is called vertigo. It is a false sense of movement.
Vertigo is usually due to a dysfunction in the balance system of the body, most commonly in the balance part of the inner ear or the balance nerve.
Abnormalities of these peripheral parts of the balance system cannot cause a loss of consciousness.
Central lesions involve the brainstem or cerebellum or higher levels of the brain.
What is the cause of vertigo?
Vertigo has many possible causes. The duration of vertigo can help in determining its cause.
Vertigo lasting seconds to minutes is commonly due to Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo or BPPV. In this condition, particles or crystals in the fluids of the inner ear cause abnormal fluid movement sending a false signal to the brain resulting in vertigo. BPPV is usually triggered by certain movements of the head such as looking upwards and backwards or rolling over in bed.
Vertigo lasting minutes to hours may be due to Meniere’s syndrome. This condition occurs due to a build-up of fluid in the inner ear. This results in episodic attacks of vertigo, tinnitus, fluctuating hearing loss and aural fullness or pressure in the ear.
Vertigo lasting hours to days may be due to vestibular migraine, vestibular neuritis or labyrinthitis.
Vestibular migraine is an atypical migraine that affects the inner ear. It causes vertigo but is not always associated with a headache or light sensitivity.
Vestibular neuritis is thought to occur either due to a viral infection involving the balance nerve or an abnormality involving the small blood vessels supplying the balance part of the inner ear. It results in vertigo but hearing is generally unaffected.
Acute labyrinthitis results from inflammation of the lining of both the hearing and balance parts of the inner ear causing both vertigo and hearing loss.
How is vertigo treated?
A priority is to make sure you don’t have a serious, potentially life-threatening cause for your vertigo such as a brainstem or cerebellar stroke or brain tumour. Your GP will assess you and arrange urgent referral to a hospital if a central cause is suspected.
Treatment for peripheral vestibular lesions depends on the cause of your vertigo. Vertigo often gets better with time as the brain adapts to the dysfunction in your balance system.
Repositioning manoeuvres to move the crystals or particles in BPPV are often effective. Medications and balance exercises can make your vertigo more manageable.
A balance exercise program, also known as vestibular rehabilitation, is a program of exercises to help your brain compensate for the mismatch of information from your balance system. This is often coordinated by a physiotherapist with a special interest in balance rehabilitation.
Your WestsideENT specialist will carry out a comprehensive clinical assessment and arrange for you to have an audiogram and other tests such as balance tests, a CT scan or MRI scan, if indicated.