You may have hearing loss and not even be aware of it. People of all ages experience gradual hearing loss, most often due to the aging process and/or loud noise exposure. Other more infrequent causes of hearing loss include viruses, bacteria, heart conditions, stroke, head injury, tumors and certain medications. Treatment for hearing loss depends on the diagnosis.
Hearing is a complex and intricate process. Sound waves are picked up by the outer ear and directed into the ear canal. These sound waves then hit the eardrum, causing it to vibrate. These vibrations are carried by three very small bones in the middle ear to the inner ear. The inner ear is filled with fluid and lined by thousands of tiny hair cells. The vibrations from the ear bones create a fluid wave in the inner ear that causes these hair cells to move. These cells then change the mechanical energy into nerve signals. These nerve signals are then transmitted to the brain which interprets the sound.
You might have hearing problems if you have trouble hearing on the phone, keeping up with conversations (especially with background noise), people complain that you turn up the TV too loud, ask people to repeat themselves frequently, people seem to mumble, if you previously worked in a noisy environment, or especially if family and friends think you have hearing loss. Answering yes to these questions, especially if these things happen frequently, might need further evaluation.
Some things you can do to help preserve you hearing include developing a habit of wearing ear plugs when you know you will be exposed to loud noises, try not to use several noisy machines at once, try to keep TV and stereo volumes low, and be very cautious using ear buds or ear phones to keep their volume low. If you are concerned about you hearing, evaluation by an ENT physician and hearing testing would certainly be in order.