What is hearing loss?

Any problem within the hearing pathway, whether in the outer, middle or inner ear is considered a hearing loss.

Hearing loss can also stem from a disturbance in the complex auditory nerve pathway to the brain. You can be born with a hearing loss or develop it later in life from several causes. The most common is exposure to loud noises, which accounts for around 37 per cent of cases. Other reasons include blockage, damage to the ear, cochlea, hearing nerve, along with accident, illness, chemical abuse or a combination of factors.

Types of hearing loss

1. Conductive

Caused by blockage or damage to the outer and/or middle ear (eg, a middle ear infection). Medical or surgical treatment often helps.

2. Sensorineural

This results from damage to, or malfunction of, the cochlea (the hearing organ) or the hearing nerve.

3. Mixed

This is a hearing loss where there is a problem both in the conductive pathway (outer and middle ear) and in the nerve pathway (inner ear).

Hearing loss in children

In Australia, between nine and 12 children per 10,000 live births will be born with a moderate or greater hearing loss in both ears. Around another 23 children per 10,000 will acquire a hearing impairment that requires hearing aids by the age of 17 – through accident, illness or other causes. Hearing loss can affect a child’s learning, language development and behavior. It is significantly higher among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, for whom it represents a serious health and educational problem.

Hearing loss and age

The incidence of hearing loss increases as we get older. Over half the population aged between 60 and 70 have a hearing loss. This increases to more than 70 per cent of those over the age of 70, and 80 per cent of those over the age of 80.

Hearing loss among veterans

War veterans are likely to suffer from hearing problems due to damage from noise exposure during their service. Hearing is the second most common medical condition reported by Australian war veterans and war widows, with 55 per cent reporting hearing loss as a current medical condition.

Hearing loss among rural Australians

Over half of Australia’s farmers are likely to suffer from premature hearing loss through occupational noise exposure from agricultural machinery, tools and pigs in sheds at feeding time. Almost all farmers over the age of 55 who have been exposed to loud noise suffer some degree of hearing loss. However, only 18 per cent of farmers wear hearing protection while working with heavy machinery.

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