common causes of hearing loss

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Did you know that over 48 million (20%) of Americans report some degree of hearing loss? And by the age of 65, one out of every three people loses partial hearing. In addition, 2-3 of every 1000 children in the US are born with hearing loss in one or both ears. That’s why you’ll see even children with hearing aids! Despite it’s prevalence, many people are uneducated about hearing loss. And what many people don’t know is that there are actually 4 main types of hearing loss. These include auditory processing disorders, conductive, sensorineural, and mixed. Causes of hearing loss can vary depending upon which type of hearing loss one has. Having said that, there are many different things that can lead to loss of hearing. Here are the top 5 common causes of hearing loss:

1) Loud/Excessive Noise

If you have ever heard your mother tell you not to listen to your music so loud, there is good reason why. Noise that is too loud can cause permanent damage to your hearing. If a noise is excessively loud, instant and permanent damage can occur. This is the exact reason that they make you wear headphones at a shooting range. A single shot from a close range shot gun is enough to damage your hearing instantly. But not all hearing loss occurs so quickly. It can also occur over an extended period of time with repeated exposure to loud noise. Such exposure can damage the hair cells within the inner ear. These cells are extremely delicate, and once damaged the results are irreversible, even with professional care.

So how loud is too loud? If someone is an arms length away and you have to shout at them, the sounds around you are way too loud. Move somewhere quieter or use protective hearing devices.

2) Infections

Infections are the most common cause of hearing loss among young children. And while inflammation can affect adults as well, such circumstances are much more rare. Referred to by doctors as “otitis media”, inflammation of the middle ear can cause severe earaches and eventually lead to hearing loss. Otitis media is often accompanied by symptoms of headache, fever, and irritability. It can also lead to loss of appetite, vomiting, and diarrhea. If you suspect that your child has an ear infection, heading to the doctor immediately is the best action to take. Ear infections are often not taken that seriously, but if ignored, permanent damage and hearing loss can occur and infections are therefore one of the common causes of hearing loss.

3) Ageing

This may be the most obvious cause of hearing loss. As we get older, many of us start to lose our hearing. As mentioned above, 1 out of every 3 people lose partial hearing after the age of 65. By the age of 75, over 40-50% of people will experience some degree of hearing loss. Doctors refer to this type of hearing loss as “presbycusis”. In most cases, hearing loss occurs in both ears equally. People with presbycusis can often still hear low pitched sounds, but may have more difficulty hearing higher pitched ones.

4) Injury

Injury, or a severe blow to the head, is another of the common causes of hearing loss. Our middle ear has three bones; the malleus, the incus, and the stapes. These bones  transmit sound wave vibrations further into the ear. But when someone receives a blow to the head, these three bones can change position. When this happens, vibrations or sounds are no longer sent into the ear. The result is permanent hearing loss.

Of course, there are other ways that a trauma to the head can cause hearing damage as well. Head injuries can also lead to ruptured eardrums, or could damage the nerves in the inner ear. Both cases result in damaged hearing.

5) Genetic and Birth defects

As mentioned previously, approximately 2-3 of every 1000 newborns will experience hearing loss. It is one of the most common of all birth defects. When presented at birth, hearing loss is referred to as “congenital” hearing loss. Having said that, genetics can also lead to a later development of hearing loss in childhood or adulthood. But contrary to what some might think, you don’t need to have deaf parents to be born that way. In fact, over 90% of babies with congenital hearing loss have two parents with hearing in both ears. It’s estimated that genetics play a factor in approximately 50% of all congenital hearing loss cases. Other things that can cause hearing loss at birth include infections such as rubella, herpes, and syphilis. Premature babies are also at higher risk.

So, those are the top 5 common causes of hearing loss. Still, they are far from the only causes. Reactions to drugs and medications can also cause hearing impairment. Many medications that treat serious infections, cancers, and heart disease have also been linked to hearing loss. Other things that may affect hearing include a gradual buildup of ear wax, a ruptured eardrum, and autoimmune diseases within the inner ear.  Stroke, diabetes, shingles, tumors, and even obesity can also all lead to hearing loss.

When should you see a doctor?

If you have a child that you suspect has hearing loss, see a doctor immediately. Sometimes hearing loss can be disguised in other diagnoses. Many times, for example, children with severe hearing loss may appear as though they are being defiant or not listening. In reality, however, they simply cannot hear you. You should also take your child to see a doctor the second you suspect an ear infection. As previously mentioned, ear infections can turn into permanent damage if not treated promptly.

If you are an adult and have sudden hearing loss in one or both ears, seek medical attention immediately. You should also see a doctor if you are having a more difficult time understanding conversations, or if you are finding yourself consistently increasing the volume on tv or radio.

Please remember that those mentioned above are just the top 5 most common causes of hearing loss. There are many things that can cause permanent damage to the ears, so if you suspect anything unusual with your body it is best to seek medical attention immediately, or contact us about hearing aids!