A variety of things can cause hearing loss, from trauma and exposure to loud noise to disease and disorders. Some can be treated using modern medicine or surgery, while another hearing impairment could be permanent.
Understanding the Terminology Used with Hearing Loss
Unlike being born deaf, hearing loss can occur at any age and affects both babies and adults in varying ways. While deaf typically means a person has little to no hearing in one or both ears, hard of hearing can span type of hearing problems and treatments. People who are hard of hearing might have enough residual hearing to use a hearing aid and learn to speak as children.
Hearing troubles can also differ depending on the part of the ear that is affected or a mix of two, usually conductive and sensorineural together. The three most common types of hearing issues are:
Depending on the type, cause, and degree of hearing loss, symptoms can vary.
With age also comes a natural decline in hearing we all can expect. However, one out of three 65-74-year-olds experiences loss of hearing due to a variety of damaging factors and genetic differences. People who have experienced a loss in their hearing typically:
- Ask others to repeat themselves often
- Have difficulty understanding normal conversations
- Turns up the TV or radio
- Avoids social situations and places like busy restaurants where the noise level is more lively
- Feel a ringing or buzzing sound in their ears
- Can hear but not understand what’s being said
Common Types of Hearing Problems
Not all causes of hearing loss are reversible. While there are tons of different causes, some are easier to cure than others. Learn about the common, everyday reasons for hearing issues.
Build-Up in the Ear Canal
Everyone produces different levels of ear wax, depending on race, diet, and genetics. While it usually protects the ear canal from debris and naturally works its way out, some people can produce more wax than needed. The build-up in the ear canal happens when too much wax blocks sound.
Whether it’s wax or some type of foreign body, anything stuck in your ear canal can hinder your hearing temporarily. Once whatever is blocking your ear is removed, the sound should be restored to normal instantly.
Loud noises such as explosions, gunfire, music or some machinery are a huge cause of hearing trouble. Tiny hair cells located in the inner air are damaged by noise and cannot be restored once the damage is done. The longer the exposure continues, the more likely your hearing loss is to become permanent.
Hole in the Eardrum
The eardrum, depending on the size of the hole, will most likely heal on its own, and is often caused by trauma or infection including the following:
- Quickly changing air pressure, such as when flying or driving
- Puncturing the eardrum with an object like a Q-tip
- An untreated middle ear infection
- An explosion or blunt force trauma to the side of the head
Hearing usually returns once the eardrum heals, so precautions will need to be taken to ensure recovery. You may need to avoid getting any water in your ear in the shower or bath and should avoid swimming.
A procedure known as tympanoplasty can help patch the eardrum in more severe cases.
Common ear infections occur in the outer ear (ear canal) or middle ear (behind the eardrum) and can be either fungal or bacterial in nature. Ear drops commonly treat outer ear infections while the middle ear is treated using antibiotics.
In some reoccurring or serious cases, tubes are also placed in the eardrum to help drain fluid and prevent future occurrences. However, hearing returns in patients once the infection clears.
Common Hearing Disorders
Few illnesses and hearing disorders involve hearing loss, but there are a couple of middle ear disorders that can be easily corrected with surgery, including:
- Otosclerosis – A stiffening of the bones in the middle ear.
- Cholesteatoma – A build-up of tissue in the middle ear, either caused by genetic reasons or from chronic or untreated ear infections, that can be removed during surgery. The longer this condition goes untreated, the harder it is to regain your hearing loss.
Other illnesses can put your hearing at risk by interfering with the blood supply to the ear, including:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
Often the cause of permanent hearing loss, ototoxicity is caused by medications and can impair your hearing or balance. Medications we know to have triggered this side effect include over 200 different drugs, such as:
- Chemotherapy drugs
- Some antibiotics
- Loop diuretics
- A malaria drug treatment
- Several erectile dysfunction drugs
If you suspect your hearing isn’t what it once was, consider seeking the opinion of a healthcare professional. Hearing tests are a simple and effortless way to begin understanding what is causing your hearing issues and how you can restore your lifestyle.