Hearing loss is a complicated condition. It can occur at any age, it can be brought on by external or internal factors, it can be present in one or both ears, and it can be temporary or permanent. A bout with tinnitus, which can be described as a “ringing” or “pulsing” sound in the ear, can often lead to some degree of hearing loss. Certain drugs, called oxotoxic medications, can cause hearing loss. Repeated exposure to loud noise without proper ear protection can be the cause as well. Genetic factors can contribute to its presence and, in some cases, it could be caused by a tumor in the inner ear.
Luckily, hearing loss is a heavily researched condition, and we know a great deal about how to treat the scenarios outlined above as well as others. While only a small percentage of the hearing loss population are candidates for surgery, there are a number of other ways we can address hearing loss, from hearing aids to speech therapy to even simply discontinuing the use of oxotoxic medications. An important point to note is that no one should self-diagnose hearing loss: seek the guidance of your primary physician who may, in turn, refer you to an audiologist. The hearing loss you experience could be an indicator of another underlying condition that also needs to be addressed.
Those who suffer from hearing loss will not all experience it the same way and we will look at one specific type of hearing loss and ways it can be both prevented and treated.
What Is High-Frequency Hearing Loss?
High-Frequency Hearing Loss (commonly associated with Noise-Induced Hearing Loss) occurs when there is damage to an individual’s sensory hearing cells; those cells in the cochlea can be damaged or die altogether. These cells are responsible for collecting sounds and turning them into electrical impulses that are sent to your brain. High-frequency sounds are received in the lower part of the cochlea while low-frequency sounds are perceived in the upper part. Hearing loss typically has an impact on the high-frequency sounds first.
Here are what people with high-frequency hearing loss experience:
- The speech of others sounds muffled.
- Sounds between 2,000 and 8,000 Hertz (Hz) are difficult to detect.
- Female voices may be harder to understand than male voices.
- A high-pitched “beep,” such as an alarm clock or an oven timer, may also be difficult to hear.
Beyond those specific examples, it is important to remember that this condition spills over into the quality of life. Difficulty communicating with others can put a serious strain on relationships with family and friends and it can also create difficulties in the workplace. Individuals who suffer from high-frequency hearing loss (or any type of hearing loss, for that matter) may experience feelings of isolation that, in some cases, lead to depression. Just as those with hearing loss seek out practical treatment options for the loss, they should also consider counseling or therapy to address the emotional impact.
Do We Know What Causes High-Frequency Hearing Loss?
There are a number of causes of high-frequency hearing loss, which can happen to anyone at any time and at any age.
- Noise is a huge contributor to high-frequency hearing loss, and millions of people end up with hearing loss after exposure to extremely loud noises. It can happen as a result of a one-time event (for example, exposure to gunfire) or it can occur after prolonged exposure (for example, someone who attends concerts frequently or works in a loud industrial or military setting).
- Oxotoxic Drugs are another cause of high-frequency hearing loss. They can be as common as everyday pain relievers or in some cases more serious such as chemotherapy treatments. (Note: you should never discontinue the use of a medication, oxotoxic or otherwise, without consulting your physician. The benefits of the oxotoxic medication may outweigh the burden of the hearing loss.)
- Diseases and Other Illnesses can cause high-frequency hearing loss. One common cause is Meniere’s disease, which affects the inner ear, and is also often accompanied by dizziness and tinnitus. Chronic ear infections in children can also cause high-frequency hearing loss, especially if left untreated.
- Your Family Tree might be (partially) to blame if you suffer from high-frequency hearing loss. Genetics can mean you are predisposed to developing this kind of hearing loss if others in your family did.
- The Aging Population is always at risk for high-frequency hearing loss and this is a fact of life for all of us as we grow older. It may be slow in onset but one of the first indicators is when you have trouble understanding people in noisy environments.
Can I Prevent High-Frequency Hearing Loss?
Hearing protection is the best thing you can do to minimize the risk of developing high-frequency hearing loss. If you work in a loud setting (such as an airport luggage handler… or a drummer for a rock band) or if you simply spend time in loud settings as a hobby (such as a gun range), you owe it to your hearing to protect your ears. Ear protection is available in a wide variety of options for all budgets. Forgetting to wear protection just once could be the one time that irreversible damage is done.
What Can Be Done to Treat High-Frequency Hearing Loss Once it Occurs?
While there is no magic pill or miraculous surgery to treat high-frequency hearing loss, it can be addressed with the use of a hearing aid or even cochlear implants. Technology can certainly make it easier to manage the condition—and hearing aids have come a long way—but the condition cannot be reversed. Protecting your ears, staying informed about whether or not any of your medications are oxotoxic, and maintaining an active and healthy lifestyle are the best steps you can take to ward off hearing loss for as long as possible.