The Impacts of Hearing Loss

Municipal Pension Plan

The Impacts of Hearing Loss

It’s easy to take our sense of hearing for granted – most of us expect to hear our friend call our name in a crowded room, appreciate all the details in our favourite song or understand the person on the other end of the phone. But when hearing loss starts to present itself, it’s important to seek treatment.

Why should we address hearing loss, even if it seems minor?

Hearing loss can be progressive and early detection and treatment can reduce the impacts or treat the issue altogether. Many people avoid seeking treatment due to outdated opinions on hearing devices. Some such opinions are that hearing devices are too bulky or make sounds too loud. Hearing aids have come a long way in the past several years and can be virtually undetectable.

It is important to seek treatment when you, and especially your friends or loved ones, notice a change in your hearing. Untreated hearing loss can increase your risks of adverse mental health such as anxiety and depression. It can also impact self-esteem and physical health. Hearing is an important component of environmental awareness and hearing loss increases your chances of accidents, including tripping or falling.

How hearing loss happens

There are three types of hearing loss – sensorineural, conductive and mixed.

Sensorineural hearing loss is caused by damage to the inner ear or to the nerves that send sound to the brain. This can happen from excessive noise, aging, certain medications and even viral infections.

Conductive hearing loss occurs when something blocks sound waves from reaching the inner ear. Blockages can include wax build-up, fluid in the middle ear, damage to the eardrum and tumors.

When you have more than one of the types (if you have wax build-up and inner-ear damage, for example), your hearing loss is considered mixed.

Signs and symptoms

Severe hearing loss is usually obvious, but gradual hearing impairment can be subtle and take years to notice.

For instance, when we age and start to lose our hearing, the high frequencies are usually the first to go. We might have trouble understanding people with high voices or we might mix up consonant sounds such as “th” and “sh.” But often, we don’t know we’re losing our hearing until a friend or family member points it out. According to Statistics Canada, nearly 78 per cent of adults aged 60 to 79 have some form of hearing loss, and only around a quarter of them are aware.

How to prevent and treat hearing loss

While conductive hearing loss can be temporary and treatable (wax build-up can be removed, for example), sensorineural loss is typically untreatable and potentially permanent.

Wearing ear protection in loud environments can help protect you from noise-related hearing loss. Ensuring you have all your vaccinations will help prevent viral infections that can damage your hearing and avoiding certain medications can also help.

When a hearing impairment is severe enough to affect daily activities, there are several ways of dealing with it.

Hearing aids are the most traditional way to handle hearing loss. They work by amplifying sounds through a device that sits in or behind the ear. Many hearing aids are configurable to adapt to different listening situations (a noisy room versus a phone call, for example). Research from Duke University suggests that our eardrums point where our eyes are looking, which means future hearing aids may include optical sensors to amplify what we’re looking at.

Cochlear implants can work for people who can’t hear with hearing aids. Thin wires are implanted in the inner ear and are connected to a device that converts sound into electrical impulses. These impulses stimulate the auditory nerve, which then sends the impulses into the brain.

Bone-conducting hearing aids are used when you can’t hear through your ear canal (some people are born without ear canals, and in some cases, they may become blocked). Implants in the skull transmit vibrations into our inner ear, where they’re picked up by the cochlea and converted into sound.

Blue Advantage savings for Blue Cross Members

No matter the method, treatment options can be expensive. The Municipal Pension Plan’s expenditure on hearing loss equipment has increased by approximately one million dollars in the past four years, as more individuals meet the requirements for devices, the devices become costlier and, in some cases, sophisticated.

To address these increasing costs and make the most of your hearing aid limit of $700 every four years for adults and two years for children, Pacific Blue Cross has partnered with hearing equipment providers across the province and Canada, so Blue Cross Members and their dependents have access to savings on hearing devices and services that can help lower their cost. Learn more and find a Provider near you.