Many of us know someone with hearing loss, but we don’t always know what causes it. Learning more about it can help us prevent damage, and get the help we need once it happens.
The most common causes of hearing loss include:
- Damage to some part of the inner ear, middle ear, or outer ear
- Health conditions affecting one or more of those areas
- Damage caused by loud noise levels in our environment
Hearing problems affect more people than we might think. Why? No matter the cause, hearing problems can create real issues in communication, affecting the quality of life, daily routine, and our most important relationships. This means it affects the person with hearing loss as well as everyone they care about and interact with.
The good news? While some types of hearing loss may be permanent, others can be temporary or treatable so chatting with a hearing health care professional could lead to relief for everyone.
Hearing Loss: The Inner Ear
The majority of hearing problems result from damage to the inner ear. Typical causes are the natural aging process, excessive exposure to noise, medication toxic to the auditory system, or head injuries.
Generally, hearing loss resulting from inner ear damage cannot be reversed by medical treatment but can be improved with hearing aids. This type of hearing loss is referred to as a sensorineural hearing loss.
What You Might Not Know About The Inner Ear:
- Sensorineural hearing loss (SHL) is the most common type of hearing loss and tends to result from damage to delicate hair cells in the cochlea (an organ located in the inner ear) responsible for picking up sounds.
- Overexposure to loud noises can damage or destroy these cells—or the nerves they connect to—making hearing more difficult.
- High-frequency sound is usually the first casualty of loud-noise exposure, which can lead to permanent high-frequency hearing loss.
Hearing Loss: The Middle Ear
Perforation of the eardrum, infection, or fluid in the middle ear are the most common causes of hearing loss in the middle ear. Many outer and middle ear problems can be treated by a doctor.
Hearing loss caused by conditions of the outer or middle ear is referred to as a conductive hearing loss.
What You Might Not Know About The Middle Ear:
- Conductive hearing loss can be caused by infection or blockage of the outer or middle ear and tends to be the culprit in this type of hearing loss.
- Middle-ear infections (otitis media) can cause sound-blocking fluid build-ups.
- A blockage outside the eardrum can be caused by swimmer’s ear or a buildup of earwax.
- Conductive hearing loss is typically treatable, subsiding once the infection or blockage clears, or as the result of necessary surgery.
Hearing Loss: The Outer Ear
Typical conditions which may lead to hearing loss include excessive accumulation of earwax and infections of the ear canal.
What Kind Of Loud Noises Can Cause Hearing Loss?
Noise exposure is a common cause of hearing loss, and many people encounter excessive noise levels daily. Noise over 85 decibels is considered the level at which one’s hearing is endangered and existing hearing loss can be made worse. People who are exposed to these noise levels should always wear hearing protection.
Even simple activities can lead to permanent hearing loss: concerts, sporting events, hunting, riding ATVs, using power hand tools and lawn equipment, or simply listening to music at a high volume. These common sounds can reach 110 decibels or more, causing damage on the spot or within minutes. [Read more about preventing hearing loss]
What Should I Do If I Notice Hearing Problems?
Are you or a family member having difficulty understanding others? Try getting a hearing test. Just like your eyes or teeth, regular examinations are important to your health. Start with a test.