Hearing loss is common as we age, and according to the Mayo Clinic, almost half the people in the United States over age 65 have some degree of hearing loss. Hearing loss can be conductive, involving the outer or middle ear, or sensorineural which involves the inner ear, or mixed, which is a combination of both.
Symptoms of Hearing Loss
Signs of hearing loss include:
- Difficulty understanding others speaking
- Trouble hearing consonants
- Needing to ask others to speak louder or repeat what they say
- Needing to turn up the volume or turn on captioning on the TV
- Muffling of speech and other sounds
- Continuous ringing or static sounds in the ears (tinnitus)
Hearing loss can lead to a loss of confidence in social situations and the tendency to withdraw from or avoid conversations. Hearing loss can result in depression and isolation and even cognitive impairment and decline. As hearing loss can occur gradually, you may not notice it at first, but it can have a significant effect on quality of life.
Causes of Hearing Loss
While normal aging is probably the most common risk factor for hearing loss, it can also occur as a result of physical damage to the inner ear or the eardrum. Ear infection and abnormal bone growths or tumors can also cause hearing loss.
Risk factors that can lead to ear damage and hearing loss include long-term or repeated exposure to loud noise, recreational or occupational noise. Those who work in environments like the military, farming, construction, or factory work are at risk of hearing loss. Firearms, jet engines, motorcycling, snowmobiling, loud music, and other activities can have dangerously high noise levels.
In addition, heredity, some medications, and some illnesses can also contribute to ear damage and hearing loss.
3M Combat Arms Earplugs
Military personnel are routinely exposed to high noise levels from gunfire, explosions, aircraft, and heavy machinery and for that reason they are provided with earplugs to protect their hearing and minimize the risk of hearing loss. From 2003 to 2015, the U.S. military issued the 3M Combat Arms version 2 Earplugs to personnel for that purpose. Those specific earplugs were defective, and as a result, thousands of soldiers have suffered hearing loss or tinnitus after believing they were protected. Many veterans are now filing legal claims against 3M for knowingly selling the defective devices to the Department of Defense.