Whether it is listening to your favorite music, the sound of the ocean, or conversing with your loved ones, hearing brings unquantifiable joy to our everyday lives. Yet, it is taken for granted by so many. Hearing loss is a terrifying reality for many people, with one in eight people in the United States (13 percent, or 30 million) aged 12 years or older suffering from hearing loss. Yet, very few of us know what causes hearing loss and how we can prevent it. Hearing Group is here to impart our hearing expertise.
Although hearing loss is generally considered to impact the elderly, people of all ages can be affected, with 1.7 per 1000 babies born with some degree of hearing loss. Therefore, it is important to understand what causes hearing loss and protect yourself against it by catching it early. This way, you will hopefully never have to experience how hearing loss can change your life.
Types of Hearing Loss
When talking about what causes hearing loss, there are generally three main issues that we can diagnose people with:
- Sensorineural Hearing Loss – This is the most common type of hearing loss caused by a range of different conditions (which we will discuss later in the post). These different conditions cause damage to the hair-like cells in the auditory nerve or inner ear. This means that the sounds and information required to hear don’t get transmitted to the brain correctly. Unfortunately, this form of hearing loss is permanent.
- Conductive Hearing Loss – is generally caused by an obstruction or a problem in the middle or outer ear. This prevents the sound from getting to the eardrum. This form of hearing loss can be both permanent or temporary.
- Mixed Hearing Loss – This, as you may imagine, occurs when you have a mixture of the two forms of hearing loss.
Signs and Symptoms of Hearing Loss
The symptoms of hearing loss will most likely vary, depending on the severity and the type.
It is common for those with age-related hearing loss to hear higher-pitched sounds, known as high-frequency hearing loss. This may mean that hearing birds chirping, whistling, or children’s female voices becomes more of a challenge.
- If you are worried that you could be suffering from hearing loss, then you should look out for the following signs and symptoms:
- Trouble understanding speech and conversation
- Trouble hearing consonants
- Needing to turn the volume up on the TV
- Social anxiety due to difficulty conversing
- Feeling of exhaustion after struggling to hear for extended periods
- Tinnitus or ringing sound in your ears
Causes of Hearing Loss
Although there are many different ways in which hearing loss can occur, below you will find some of the most common causes of hearing loss in adults.
- Build-up of Earwax – Earwax can get lodged in your ear canal and prevent the conduction of sound waves. Removal of earwax can often restore hearing.
- Ruptured Eardrum – Loud noises, poking of the eardrum, or changes in pressure can lead to a ruptured eardrum and impact your hearing.
- Ear Infections and Abnormal Bone Growths – When they occur in the middle or outer ear, they can lead to hearing loss.
- Damage to the Inner Ear – Damage to the inner ear and the general aging process can damage the hairs or nerve cells within the cochlea. When these hairs or cells are damaged, electrical signals cannot be transmitted as efficiently, and hearing loss occurs.
- Otosclerosis – This disease affects the middle ear and prevents the tiny bones from being able to move. You can generally treat this form of conductive hearing loss through surgery.
- Ménière’s Disease – Although the cause of this inner ear problem is not fully understood, what we do know is that it usually impacts people between the ages of 30-50 and can lead to sensorineural hearing loss. Sufferers of Ménière’s disease often have hearing loss that comes and goes and are sensitive to loud noises.
- Autoimmune Inner Ear Disease – This autoimmune disease causes your own body to attack itself and generally leads to rapid total hearing loss. If you can catch this disease quickly before it progresses, you may prevent permanent hearing loss.
- Acoustic Neuroma – This type of tumor can cause hearing loss or lead to a ringing in the ears, which will require surgery, but your hearing may return.
- Traumatic Brain Injury – Any form of traumatic brain injury (TBI) can cause significant damage to the middle ear or eardrum and cause permanent hearing loss.
- Presbycusis – This form of hearing loss generally occurs as you age and can cause speech to sound unclear or muffled. This sensorineural hearing loss can lead to you asking people to repeat themselves due to difficulty hearing speech.
Hearing Loss Risk Factors
Here is a range of factors that can increase the risk of hearing loss:
- Aging – The general aging process causes degradation of the inner ear, which can eventually lead to partial or total loss of hearing.
- Hereditary – Genetics can make you more susceptible to hearing loss through the general aging process and ear damage through sound.
- Occupational and Recreational Noises – Working in a loud environment (e.g., factory work, construction, etc.) or continuously participating in recreational activities that expose you to dangerously loud noise levels (attending concerts, etc.) can damage the inner ear.
- Certain Illnesses – Illnesses that cause you to experience dangerously high fevers, such as meningitis, can cause damage to the cochlea and leave you with hearing damage.
- Ototoxic Medications – Certain types of medication like ototoxic medication can damage the sensory cells located in the inner ear. These cells are essential for your hearing balance.
A ringing in the ears (tinnitus) will often be the first sign of ototoxicity. This can develop into hearing loss over time unless the medication usage is discontinued.
How to Treat Hearing Loss
The form of hearing loss treatment generally depends on what is causing the hearing loss. For example, if the hearing loss is caused by an obstruction or a build-up of ear wax, a less invasive form of treatment will normally be used to break down and dislodge the obstruction.
However, for those with other more permanent forms of hearing loss, the most common and effective way to treat hearing loss is usually through the fitment of hearing aids. These small electronic devices can make sounds louder and clearer, thus meaning that your hearing loss feels less significant. Although hearing aids can’t reverse the process of hearing loss, they can ensure a future full of the sounds you love.
Find out more about your hearing health by booking a free hearing test with Hearing Group’s hearing specialists.