itchy ears being checked by doctor
itchy ears being checked by a doctor

What Level of Hearing Loss Requires a Hearing Aid?

Not All Hearing Loss Will Require a Hearing Aid

A fairly large portion of the population will experience hearing loss at some point in their life, but very few will actually seek help or wear hearing aids as prescribed by their provider. Because hearing loss can take many forms and impact folks in unique ways, there really isn’t a single point or case in which a hearing aid is always required, but hearing tests and exams are the first lines of defense in identifying if hearing aids are right for you.

Different Types of Hearing Loss

Hearing loss can take several different forms, and each is unique in both its cause and how it is treated. The four main types of hearing loss are:

  • Conductive Hearing Loss: Often the lowest level and least permanent type of hearing loss is conductive hearing loss, which is caused by something stopping sounds from traveling through your ear canal. Conductive hearing loss can be caused by things like ear wax, an ear infection or fluid buildup, and treatment often involves removing the blockage.

  • Sensorineural Hearing Loss: Sensorineural hearing loss is one of the more common types, and it’s caused when damage to the inner ear or its nerves makes it harder to capture external sounds. Depending on the severity, a hearing aid is often the treatment for this type of hearing loss, as hearing aids can supplement the hearing processes that are not working effectively.

  • Mixed Hearing Loss: Any combination of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss is categorized as mixed hearing loss, and treatment for this type depends heavily on the severity of the case, the cause, and your unique experience.

  • Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: While other types of hearing loss have to do with your ear’s ability to receive sound, auditory neuropathy spectrum disorder is where your ear has trouble — or is unable to — process sounds into the electrical signals needed for your brain to translate that sound. Developing this disorder later in life is very rare, and the vast majority of cases are identified and treated shortly after birth via a cochlear implant.

How Do Hearing Aids Work?

Hearing aids are incredibly advanced technology, and they’ve come a long way as science and technology have worked together to help us better understand hearing loss and how best to treat it.

While a lot happens within your hearing aids as they work with your inner ear to help you more effectively process sounds, the general makeup of hearing aids is quite simple. No matter the style of hearing aid, your device will have a microphone, an amplifier and a speaker.

The microphone is the first piece external sounds will reach when traveling through hearing aids and into your inner ear. The microphone receives the sound and sends it along to the amplifier. From there, the amplifier will turn that sound into electrical signals, which are then delivered via the speaker to your inner ear.

How Much Hearing Loss Is Too Much?

There are millions of cases of undiagnosed hearing loss in the United States today, and a big part of that is because hearing loss can develop gradually, and it’s harder for your brain to recognize the loss of hearing in smaller increments over long periods of time. While some hearing loss is immediate — especially in the case of noise-induced hearing loss, which can, in some cases, happen from a sudden loud noise damaging your ear — gradual hearing loss is much more common.

After decades of helping folks identify and treat hearing loss of all types and levels, we’ve witnessed firsthand how different each unique case of hearing loss can be, and so, the treatment required for each patient can vary drastically.

Because each case is different, the level of hearing loss that will warrant a hearing aid or other hearing loss intervention will be different, too, but there are a few general rules of thumb we follow to help folks decide whether they want to try hearing aids or not.

If you're having trouble following conversations with friends or family or your hearing loss is impacting your ability to do your job effectively, it may be time to consider a hearing aid. There is also an increased risk of developing certain diseases and conditions with hearing loss, so hearing aids may be necessary to prevent these comorbidities from developing.

Hearing loss is deeply personal and unique to you, and the only way to know if your hearing loss could benefit from a hearing aid is by getting a hearing screening with a trained hearing care professional, like the team at your local Beltone.

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