What Are the Most Common Causes of Hearing Loss?
“Could you repeat that?” Is this a familiar question?
If you’re missing parts of conversations, have become well-acquainted with that ringing in your ears, or can’t figure out which direction sounds are coming from, you are likely experiencing symptoms of hearing loss.
What Are the Three Different Types of Hearing Loss?
There are a few different types of hearing loss, and they are classified by the affected part in the auditory system:
- Sensorineural hearing loss is the most common kind of hearing loss. It happens when there is damage to the inner ear (cochlea). Damage here means that sound waves can’t properly activate the sensory hair cells to stimulate the auditory nerve. The auditory nerve doesn’t carry the entire signal to the brain, so when the brain interprets the waves as sound, some messages become unclear.
- Conductive hearing loss is when there is a barrier, a condition or disease, that stops sound from getting from the outer or middle ear to the inner ear. It could be something as simple as wax build-up, or more complex like swelling from an infection or even a tumor. The inner ear is where nerves get stimulated and transport the sound to the brain. This kind of hearing loss is often treatable.
- Mixed hearing loss is a combination of sensorineural and conductive hearing loss. There may be inner ear damage in addition to a condition in the outer or middle ear that makes hearing worse.
What Causes Hearing Loss?
Many things can cause these types of hearing loss. Here are eight causes of hearing loss for you to consider.
1. Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
A lot of people love to blast the car stereo or turn up the sound when their favorite song starts blasting from their earbuds. Prolonged moments of exposure to loud noise, like music, traffic, construction, etc. can have an impact on the state of your hearing.
Permanent damage can result from noise-induced hearing loss, even though the condition is typically temporary in nature.
If you don’t give your ears time to recover between exposure to loud noise, the inner ear hair cells can cause hearing to deteriorate over time, making that after-concert ringing in your ears a permanent fixture.
2. Age-Related Hearing Loss
Presbycusis is hearing loss that is age-related. This type of hearing loss occurs in both ears, gradually over time. It is usually the result of changes in the ear caused by aging but can be the result of changes in the nerve pathways en route to the brain.
With presbycusis, there is typically damage to the inner ear. This kind of loss is permanent and typically affiliated with higher-pitched tones.
The most prominent symptom with this type of hearing loss is difficulty understanding conversations, where words sound muffled like the speaker isn’t articulating. This can be particularly difficult in noisy places like crowded restaurants.
You may also experience ringing in the ears (tinnitus) or annoyance at other sounds or their volume.
3. Inherited Hearing Loss
Just like other physical traits, hearing loss can also be hereditary. Many hearing losses are present at birth, but some conditions develop over time.
There are more than 400 genetic syndromes that can contribute to hearing loss which include Waardenburg syndrome, Stickler syndrome, and Alport syndrome, to name a few.
4. Head Trauma and Tumors
Some tumors may affect your hearing. This type of hearing loss is usually treated medically or surgically. Normal hearing may or may not come back after treatment. Head trauma can damage ear structures and cause short-term or permanent hearing loss.
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5. Ototoxic Drugs
Medications can come with side effects. Some medications can damage the ears, even over-the-counter medications.
When you are prescribed new drugs, ask your physician if hearing loss can be one of the possible effects; you can always ask if there is a drug substitute that tackles your medical issue without affecting your hearing.
6. Unilateral Hearing Loss (UHL)
This type of hearing loss is also referred to as single-sided deafness because it occurs in only one ear.
Trauma can cause UHL to the ear/head, autoimmune ear diseases, excessive noise exposure to one ear (for instance, shooting long guns), and more. UHL can make hearing and locating the source of sounds difficult on the hearing-impaired side.
7. Viral Infections
Infections such as measles, mumps, meningitis, syphilis, and others can be associated with sudden sensorineural hearing loss.
If you’ve suffered from an infection and experience hearing loss around the same time, it’s possible the two are connected. The hearing loss will occur without warning and can develop over the course of a day.
Diagnosis can be a bit difficult to determine since the hearing loss can come from inflammation, bacterial/fungal infection or damage to the inner ear or auditory nerve. Most cases are treated with steroids and those suffering from mild degrees of hearing loss typically recover. Even with prompt treatment, permanent hearing loss is still a possibility.
A recent study found that hearing loss is twice as common in people who have diabetes and those who don’t.
The connection between diabetes and hearing loss hasn’t been determined; however, there is speculation that high blood glucose levels are to blame. These levels can cause damage to the small blood vessels of the inner ear (much like how diabetes affects the kidneys and the eyes).
Ways to Prevent Hearing Loss
- Acknowledge when noises get too loud and relocate to a quieter area.
- Use earplugs.
- Control your blood sugar if you have diabetes.
- Get a hearing test for early detection of hearing loss.
- Avoid noise by putting your hands over your ears if you are unable to leave the area.
- Limit your exposure to loud noise.
- Turn down the volume on your devices/headphones.
- Use a volume-limiter device when using personal audio equipment.
- Parents: teach your kids how to protect their hearing.
Hearing loss happens to a lot of people. If you do what you can to prevent it now, your ears will thank you in the future.