Hearing Impairments

Hearing Impairments

Hearing is one of the traditional five senses. It is the ability to perceive sound by detecting vibrations via an organ such as the ear. The inability to hear is called deafness.

A hearing impairment or hearing loss is a full or partial decrease in the ability to detect or understand sounds. Caused by a wide range of biological and environmental factors, loss of hearing can happen to any organism that perceives sound.

Hearing loss can also be classified based on which portions of the hearing system (auditory system) are affected. When the nervous system is affected, it is referred to as sensorineural hearing loss. When the portions of the ear that are responsible for transmitting the sound to the nerves are affected, it is referred to as conductive hearing loss.

A sensorineural hearing loss is due to insensitivity of the inner ear, the cochlea, or to impairment of function in the auditory nervous system. It can be mild, moderate, severe, or profound, to the point of total deafness. This is classified as a disability under the ADA and if unable to work is eligible for disability payments.

There are two main types of hearing loss. One happens when your inner ear or auditory nerve is damaged. This type is permanent. The other kind happens when sound waves cannot reach your inner ear due to ear wax build up, fluid or a punctured eardrum.

Hearing loss is categorized by its severity and by the age of onset. Two persons with the same severity of hearing loss will experience it quite differently if it occurs early or late in life. Furthermore, a loss can occur on only one side (unilateral) or on both (bilateral).

Hearing loss can be inherited. Both dominant gene and recessive genes exist which can cause mild to profound impairment. If a family has a dominant gene for deafness it will persist across generations because it will manifest itself in the offspring even if it is inherited from only one parent. It is estimated around half of all deafness and hearing impairment can be prevented.

People who are severely deaf rely a lot on lip-reading, even with a hearing aid. Profoundly deaf people can also use sign language to communicate. Hearing impaired persons with partial loss of hearing may find that the quality of their hearing varies from day to day, or from one situation to another or not at all. They may also, to a greater or lesser extent, depend on both hearing-aids and lip-reading.

Any form of communication between people is a two way street. It is very important then to determine how a deaf person prefers to communicate. There are a number of options available to them such as sign language, lip reading or using text. There will be a way of making a connection. It may sometimes be difficult or awkward but the effort is well worth it.

Over 37 million adults and over 1 million children in the United States suffer from some degree of hearing loss. In the U.K. around 840 babies are born with significant deafness each year. About one in 1,000 children is deaf at three years old and about 20,000 children aged up to 15 are moderately to profoundly deaf.

The commonest cause of hearing loss is ageing, and three-quarters of people who are deaf are aged over 60. At around 20 years of age, our hearing starts a gradual decline. Higher frequencies are usually the first to go. This age-related hearing loss is normal and doesn’t lead to total loss of hearing. Age-related hearing loss (presbycusis) typically begins with the loss of higher frequencies, so that certain speech sounds - such as ‘s’, ‘f’ and ‘t’ - end up sounding very similar. This means the older person can hear, but not always understand.

Many people who are deaf consider spoken language their primary language and consider themselves "hard of hearing". How one classifies themselves relative to hearing loss or deafness is a very personal decision and reflects much more than just their ability to hear.