News | Published July 21, 2014 | Written by Leslie Purcell, AuD, audiology, Mount Nittany Physician Group

The effects of untreated hearing loss

Approximately 36 million Americans have hearing loss, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), yet it is estimated that only 20 percent of those individuals who may benefit from treatment actually seek help.

Untreated hearing loss has many emotional and social consequences for individuals, according to The National Council on Aging (NCOA). Not only does untreated hearing loss negatively effect a person's quality of life, but it also can cause health problems.

Most people rely on hearing to a great degree in their communication with others. Studies have shown a direct link between hearing loss and depression, anxiety, frustration, social isolation and fatigue. These factors can have a profound effect on an individual's life.

For those still in the workforce, a national study by the Better Hearing Institute reported that Americans with unaddressed hearing loss make less money than people with normal hearing, negatively impacting household income, on average by $23,000 per year. The study also showed that the use of hearing aids mitigates those negative effects by about 50 percent.

In addition, untreated hearing loss can cause medical issues.

A person hears sound after microscopic hair cells in the inner ear vibrate and send signals to the brain. When those hair cells are damaged, they cannot transmit sound properly, resulting in auditory deprivation - hearing loss at certain frequencies. When auditory deprivation is not treated, it can cause the brain to forget how to understand sound. Ultimately, the brain may no longer be able to interpret noise.

A study by Johns Hopkins and the National Institute on Aging (NIA) has also shown that seniors with hearing loss are significantly more likely to develop dementia than those who retain their hearing. The reason for the connection is unknown; however, some researchers suggest that auditory deprivation may be an underlying cause of dementia since it can overwhelm the brain.

To better live a full life with hearing loss, it is vital to both recognize and accept hearing loss. Some of the signs of hearing loss include:

  • Difficulty following conversations involving more than two people
  • Thinking that other people sound muffled or that they're mumbling
  • Trouble hearing in noisy situations like restaurants or crowded meetings rooms
  • Problems hearing on the phone
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Feeling stressed out from straining to hear what others are saying
  • Withdrawal from social situations because of difficulty hearing
  • Family history of hearing loss

If you think you may have hearing loss, it is important to see an audiologist to receive a hearing test and to determine which forms of treatment, if any, are best.

For more information on hearing loss or to schedule a hearing evaluation, call Mount Nittany Physician Group's audiology department at 814.466.6396, or visit