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Some of the Most Common Causes of Hearing Loss

Hearing loss is a plague that affects people of all ages, all over the world. It is found in newborn infants, young children, active adults, and of course the senior population. Of course when we picture hearing loss, we may see images of hearing aid-wearing grandparents in nursing homes. Hearing loss is actually much more prevalent and varied than just the old age stereotype. Most people may think that hearing loss is only problem for the very old or those with genetic hearing loss – those who are born deaf or partially deaf. Not only is this assumption incorrect, but it can even deter people from noticing or preventing the common causes of hearing loss.

Hearing loss can set upon individuals rapidly, of course, but it can also be very gradual and even unnoticeable. If undiagnosed, hearing loss that was once treatable or preventable can become permanent and even lead to other serious problems. Many of the most common causes of hearing loss can be prevented or easily treated to help individuals hear a complete range of health and enjoy healthy ear function and balance. It is vital to pay close attention to your own hearing, and the hearing of your loved ones. Notice if they appear to have difficulty hearing things at regular volumes, difficulty understanding telephone conversation, or any of these other common signs of hearing loss. Even if your family members are young and healthy, they may be experiencing hearing loss that needs attention. It is critical to be aware of the signs of hearing loss, as well as the common causes of hearing loss.

Types of Hearing Loss

First it’s important to distinguish between two types of hearing loss, before venturing into the critical causes of which you need to be aware. All hearing loss can be sorted into two categories, and sometimes a combination of the two categories:

  • Conductive or
  • Sensorineural.

Conductive means there is something wrong with the ear itself, physically. It means there is something causing hearing problems within the structure of the ear. It may have been from birth, from a recent event or injury, or something else entirely.

Sensorineural hearing loss is due to problems with the nerves and the part of the brain that processes hearing. Sometimes people can experience hearing loss that is both conductive and sensorineural, but usually the hearing loss falls in one of those two categories (read more about conductive and sensorineural hearing loss here).

some_common_causes_of_hearing_lossCommon Causes of Hearing Loss

There is a very wide variety of causes for hearing loss, just like there are many degreesand sources of hearing loss. Some individuals experience temporary hearing loss, while some are permanent. Some have slightly decreased hearing, some are near deaf. The causes for this variety of hearing conditions are just as varied. Some are preventable. Many can be addressed through corrective surgeries that restore all or partial hearing, as long as they are properly diagnosed and treated immediately.

The causes of hearing loss can be broken down into four main categories

  1. Infections/Illness
  2. Injury/Exposure
  3. Genetics
  4. Age

Within each of these categories is a mix of triggers, causes, and events that could lead to hearing loss.

Infections/Illness: According to the Hearing Loss Association of America, infection or illness is a very common cause of conductive hearing loss. Usually this type of hearing loss is temporary, and goes away with the illness, but if left untreated or unchecked it can cause more serious damage to permanent hearing. Often it’s fluid in the ears due to colds which can temporarily impair hearing. Ear infections are also very common, especially in young children and babies. These infections are usually treated with antibiotics, and sometimes the insertion of flexible tubes to help aerate and drain the middle ear of excess fluid. If a frequent problem, a doctor may recommend removal of the tonsils and adenoid, which can contribute to repeated ear infections. Allergies, though less common, can also cause issues in the inner ear which can lead to ear infection, irritation, and hearing loss. Babies born prematurely or who are exposed to certain infections as tiny infants can also experience hearing loss which is sometimes temporary and sometimes permanent.

Injury or Exposure: Another common and more obvious contributor to hearing loss is when the ear is subject to some sort of injury. If some sort of foreign object is inserted into the ear that can obviously impair hearing. Head trauma and head injuries can also cause hearing loss, especially if damage is localized in or around the ear area (Audiology Associates). One of the most common injuries that can lead to hearing loss is the “blowing out” of an eardrum caused by intense pressure, puncture, or force. Exposure to very loud noise – for a brief period of time or extended – can damage the ear and negatively affect hearing as well. It’s called acoustic trauma or simply “exposure,” and causes swelling and irritated inflammation in the inner ear.

Genetics: Often hearing loss is considered to be irreversible and genetic, and sometimes this is the case. Sometimes individuals are born with faulty ears – their ear structures may have formed improperly in utero, they may have perforations, or even a heredity disorder called Otosclerosis which is bony growth inside the ear that prevents the transmission of sound. Other types of disease or biological components that aren’t easily predictable can contribute to the loss of hearing as well, such as tumors in the brain or near the ear, and Meniere’s disease (vertigo) which affects the inner ear.

Age: The last cause is also the most universally acknowledged – age. There is a fancy term for it – presbycusis – that generally means the loss of hearing ability due to age (The American Hearing Research Foundation). Nearly all elderly individuals experience a slight decline in their hearing abilities due to biological decline and sometimes noise exposure over their lifetime. Other older individuals will experience a more rapid or extreme decline in hearing loss due to their genetics or environmental factors. Often the loss of hearing in old age can be remedied with hearing aids or cochlear implants if necessary.

The Importance of Detection & Diagnosis

It is important for people in all walks of life to become familiar with these causes and signs of hearing loss so they can identify and address hearing loss they suspect in themselves and others. Hearing loss is not a one way, irreversible street all of the time. For the vast majority of cases there are options out there. Whether the hearing loss is slight or dramatic, conductive or sensorineural, in the old or the young, it is absolutely critical to see a trustworthy doctor as early as possible. Consulting with a team of audiology experts can provide you with a diagnosis, treatment plan, and better hearing right away. Look into the work of the Hearing & Balance Doctors today to see if they can improve your life – or the lives of those you love.

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