Hearing loss occurs when our ability to understand the sounds around us is lost. There are many causes of hearing loss, and here we take a look at a few of the most common. Read on to find out more.
How we hear
We need to understand how we hear in the first place in order to fully understand how we lose our hearing.
- Sound waves from all around you are picked up by your outer ear, which then travels down your ear canal to your eardrum. These sound waves then reach the eardrum, causing it to vibrate.
- A tiny air-filled chamber lies behind the eardrum, containing the body's three smallest bones (malleus, incus, and stapes). These bones are in charge of transmitting sound waves from your eardrum to your cochlea.
- Your cochlea is a network of fluid-filled tubes. This is how sound waves are translated into electrical nerve signals that the brain can read.
- These signals travel up to the primary auditory cortex in the temporal lobe of your brain, where they are interpreted and recognized by the brain as sound.
Types of hearing loss
Hearing loss can be divided into three main types:
Sensorineural hearing loss (which affects 90% of people with hearing loss) occurs when the cochlea or the auditory nerve pathways are malfunctioning. This type most commonly occurs when the hair cells in the cochlea are damaged and unable to pick up sound to be sent to the brain.
Something stops sound from properly transferring to your inner ear when you have Conductive hearing loss. Instead of a slow decline in your hearing capacity, conductive hearing loss is characterized by muffled sound. Some people have a feeling of full ears, similar to the experience of an earwax buildup. In the worst-case scenario, there could be discomfort, dizziness, or other symptoms.
Experiencing both conductive and sensorineural forms of hearing loss is known as a mixed hearing loss.
Causes of sensorineural hearing loss
The most common cause of sensorineural hearing loss is age-related hearing loss. This type of hearing loss, also known as presbycusis, is caused by a lifetime of wear on the hair cells in our cochlea. It affects both ears and becomes more common as you get older. As we grow older, the majority of us will likely develop some level of presbycusis.
Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is the second most common cause (and most common preventable) of sensorineural hearing loss. It develops from a prolonged exposure to loud noise at work or play. Short bursts of loud sound, such as those generated by weapons and explosions, can also cause immediate damage to the hair cells.
Causes of conductive hearing loss
Unlike sensorineural hearing loss which is caused by damage to the inner ear's tiny hair-like cilia (the scientific name for those hair cells that pick up sound), conductive hearing loss is caused by a number of factors.
- Earwax buildup: Excessive earwax can block sound from reaching the hair cells in the inner ear.
- Ear infections: Some people have conductive hearing loss due to a middle ear infection known as otitis media. This form of ear infection can affect both children and adults, and the resulting hearing loss can be temporary or permanent.
- Swimmer's Ear: Excessive water in the ear can lead to headaches and temporary hearing loss.
- Ear injuries: A physical obstruction to hearing, such as a bone injury near the ear or even a hole in the eardrum, can occur due to an accident or injury. This can damage the structure of the ear and increase the chances of a physical blockage.
The following factors can also cause hearing loss:
- Genetics: The way inner ear structures grow and remain healthy can be affected by genetic factors. Inherited factors affect the development of hearing loss in children and the development of hearing loss later in life.
- Viral infections can cause hearing loss in children and adults, with the loss typically occurring suddenly.
- Certain medications: In rare cases, chemical abnormalities such as those caused by some drugs may alter the composition of inner ear fluid, causing hearing loss in rare cases.
How can hearing loss be treated?
For conductive hearing loss, surgery or medication can sometimes alleviate the symptoms and restore hearing. There is no such luck with sensorineural hearing loss - it is often incurable. Although there is no cure for this form of hearing loss, many people find that hearing aids work to alleviate hearing loss symptoms.
Hearing aids can be used to:
- make it easier to understand others in noisy environments by amplifying the sound frequencies that you are missing
- help you talk on the phone
- give you more confidence when venturing outside into public places
- reduce the symptoms of tinnitus
Contact us right away if you believe you have a hearing loss. We will run the necessary tests to assess your hearing abilities and provide individualized treatment to help you get back to living your life.