What Causes Hearing Loss? How to Recognize the Symptoms & Signs
Hearing loss is a surprisingly common condition, in fact, approximately 15% of American adults aged 18 and over report some sort of trouble hearing. It can be temporary or permanent, develop gradually or happen suddenly, and can occur in one or both ears. There are many causes and symptoms; make sure you are aware so that if hearing loss signs appears, you’re ready.
What are the Main Causes of Hearing Loss?
Astoundingly, over six percent of the world’s population live with disabling hearing loss. The causes of hearing loss can either be congenital (hearing loss present at birth) or acquired (occurring at any age).
Some common causes of hearing loss include:
- Severe jaundice in the neonatal period
- The inappropriate use of particular drugs during pregnancy (aminoglycosides, cytotoxic drugs, antimalarial drugs, and diuretics)
- Maternal rubella
- Low birth weight
- Birth asphyxia (a lack of oxygen at the time of birth)
- A buildup of earwax (which can be easily removed)
- An ear infection
- Exposure to very loud noise (a frequent cause of sudden hearing loss)
- Certain medications (hearing loss may disappear after you stop taking it)
- A perforated (burst) eardrum
- Disease and illness (such as Ménière’s disease)
- Head injury or tumors
Gradual hearing loss can also be the result of ‘glue ear’ (otitis media with effusion), a bony growth (otosclerosis), or a build-up of skin cells (cholesteatoma), though these conditions often lead to hearing loss in only one ear.
The main causes of gradual hearing loss in both ears are aging (the percentage of those affected by hearing loss over the age of 50 rises to 40% in some countries) and exposure to loud noises over many years (particularly common amongst those who have worked careers in noisy environments).
This list is certainly not exhaustive, but it should give you an idea of the various causes and conditions that can lead to hearing loss.
Your hearing loss might be due to an underlying curable condition that requires prompt medical treatment, it might be symptomatic of a serious medical issue, or your hearing loss might not have an unidentifiable cause. Nevertheless, seeing a specialist will get you a proper diagnosis and the best treatment for your individual case.
How to Recognize Hearing Loss Signs
Some people take a long time to recognize the symptoms of hearing loss. It’s easy not to realize the extent of your hearing problems, especially when they develop gradually over time.
There are a few things you can watch out for, however. For example, if…
- You are starting to experience difficulty hearing other people clearly and in noisy environments
- You find yourself constantly asking people to repeat themselves
- You are having to concentrate hard to understand what people are saying
- You need to listen to music, the radio, and TV on a loud volume
These are all signs of hearing loss.
If you have hearing loss in one ear, the signs may be different and can include struggling to identify where a noise is coming from, and having significantly worse hearing when sound comes from one side.
Your child might have hearing loss if they are slow to learn how to speak, talk loudly, don’t reply when you call them, ask you to repeat yourself often, or respond inappropriately to questions.
If you have other medical symptoms, these might link to the cause of your hearing loss and point to an underlying health condition. Remember to report these to your doctor.
Why Does Hearing Loss Sometimes Only Happen in One Ear?
Sometimes hearing loss can occur in one ear from something as simple as a buildup of earwax or an ear infection.
However, injury to the ear, some illnesses, certain drugs (for example, chemotherapy drugs, diuretics such as furosemide, salicylate toxicity from aspirin, antibiotics (e.g. streptomycin and tobramycin), a blockage of the ear, a head injury or a tumor can also cause unilateral hearing loss.
Can You Cure Hearing Loss?
If your hearing loss is caused by a curable underlying medical issue or a simple wax buildup or infection of the ear, it will be treatable with the appropriate medication and treatment.
If you have a serious health condition such as a head injury or tumor, this will complicate things further.
If your hearing loss has developed gradually with age or due to loud noises or environments you were exposed to in the past, it is likely a result of hair cell damage (when the tiny hair cells in your ear are damaged or die). As this damage is irreversible, your hearing loss will be permanent.
Nevertheless, incurable doesn’t mean untreatable, and a fitted hearing aid may be able to significantly improve your symptoms.
How the Modern Age is Changing Hearing and Hearing Impairment
As technology has advanced over the years, so have methods of managing hearing impairment.
Now we know about the danger of loud workplaces causing permanent ear damage and have protective legislation for employees, there are various safeguards in place for employees in high-risk industries. This is a step in the right direction, but there is still more to be done.
In this day and age, it’s hard to think of life without the various technological devices we use daily. From the teenager listening to music on their iPhone to the professional worker constantly on their laptops and wired up with their headphones (even more so since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic), it’s more important than ever to spread awareness of the risk of hearing loss and promote proper boundaries.
On the other hand, new technology means new ways to assist and treat hearing loss as well.
What Can You Do to Protect Your Hearing?
The best way to treat hearing loss is to prevent it in the first place! Some methods include choosing the right earplugs, using proper protection during loud activities such as shooting or hunting, and exercise!
The information in this guide has been written using the following reliable sources:
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