Five Common Causes Of Hearing Loss
It’s one of the most common health challenges in America: An estimated 48 million Americans have difficulty hearing. Among those 65 years old and older, 1 in 3 has some type of hearing loss. And while age is a common cause, hearing loss may be experienced by anyone of any age. An estimated 3 out of every 1,000 children are hard of hearing or deaf. Genetics also play a large contributing factor in hearing loss.
May is Better Hearing and Speech Month (#BHSM). The month is designed to provide education and awareness about common communication disorders and how early intervention is crucial to prevent or effectively treat them. At a glance, the five most common causes of hearing loss are listed below. Read on to discover more in depth information about each one.
- Illness or injury
- Structural problems within the ear
Presbycusis is the medical term for hearing loss that gradually occurs due to age. As the body ages, changes in the middle ear and the neural pathways can cause age-related hearing loss. These changes can include the loss of hair cells, which serve as sensory receptors in the middle ear. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, almost half of those 75 years old and older have a hearing loss.
ILLNESS OR INJURY
Diseases that affect the blood supply to the ear—such as heart disease, vascular diseases or high blood pressure—can contribute to hearing loss. Traumatic injuries that may also affect hearing include:
- Head injuries – particularly skull fractures and concussions
- Sudden exposure to a loud noise – such as a gunshot or explosion
- Injury to the eardrum or middle ear
STRUCTURAL PROBLEMS WITHIN THE EAR ITSELF
These problems may include malformation of the outer ea, ear drum, ear canal, tiny bones within the ear or the inner ear. It may also include ear canal stenosis—the narrowing of the ear canal.
Certain medications, particularly those used to treat cancer, heart disease and serious infections, may damage the ear, increasing the risk of hearing loss. Medications that damage the ear are known as ototoxic medications. There are more than 200 of them on the market today. If you have questions or concerns over whether or not a medication is ototoxic, please speak with your ear, nose, and throat doctor.
According to the World Health Organization, more than 1 billion teenagers may be at risk of developing hearing loss due to noise. Smartphones, MP3 players, and other audio devices combined with loud venues such as nightclubs or sporting arenas have created a perfect storm for hearing loss among younger people.
It’s estimated that more than 50 percent of those between the ages of 12 to 35 have been exposed to unsafe noise levels as a result of music players or entertainment devices. The Centers for Disease Control state that exposures to sounds of greater than 85 decibels may cause hearing loss. For more information on safe decibel levels—along with a virtual noise meter for common sounds— visit the Centers for Disease Control website on hearing loss prevention.
While the items listed above represent the most common causes of hearing loss, there are others. It’s important to understand early symptoms of hearing loss and communication disorders. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association has launched an “Identify the Signs” campaign to raise awareness as a part of May’s Better Hearing and Speech Month.
If you are concerned that you, your child, or someone you love may be experiencing signs of a hearing loss, please contact your ear, nose and throat physician.