When we are young, we often take our hearing for granted, but as we age and things become more difficult, the possibility of hearing loss starts to get our attention. We usually think of hearing loss as a health condition affecting the aging or the elderly, but it can affect individuals of all ages under various circumstances. To provide the best possible solution to hearing loss issues, I must first determine its cause. An understanding of the common causes of hearing loss not only raises awareness of the importance of hearing health care, but also helps me address ways of preventing it.
Two Forms of Hearing Loss
Conductive and sensorineural are the two main forms of hearing loss. When sound wave signals traveling along the hearing pathway meet an obstruction in the middle or outer ear, the diagnosed condition is conductive hearing loss. However, sensorineural hearing loss includes nerve damage either to signal receiving inner ear nerves or signal transmission problems between the auditory nerve and the brain. Each of these forms of hearing loss can be independent of each other or contribute to each other in a form referred to as mixed hearing loss.
Hearing Loss in Younger Clients
Younger clients most often experience conductive hearing loss, but either form is possible. For younger clients, there is a division of hearing loss causes, including congenital hearing impairment and acquired hearing loss, which can result in conductive, sensorineural, or mixed forms.
Congenital Hearing Impairment
Congenital hearing impairment is present when a person is born. Malformation of the outer, middle or inner ear structures during fetal development are common causes of this type of hearing impairment, but it can also occur due to illnesses, infections, or complications affecting the mother during pregnancy. A higher risk of developing this type of hearing impairment is common in premature birth babies.
Acquired Hearing Loss
In contrast to congenital hearing impairment, acquired hearing loss is often a result of accidents that include skull fractures or other head trauma injuries. Diseases such as mumps, measles, chickenpox, repeated ear infections, or brain tumors are also possible causes. In addition, acquired hearing loss can result from overuse or misuse of ototoxic medications (NSAIDs, quinine, some antibiotics and antidepressants, and others), which can cause temporary or permanent hearing loss. Continuous exposure to loud noise is also a prevalent cause associated with acquired hearing loss.
Hearing Loss in Aging Clients
Statistics cited by American Family Physician demonstrate that “Hearing loss affects approximately one-third of adults 61 to 70 years of age and more than 80 percent of those older than 85 years.” Conditions, such as damage to the tympanic membrane (eardrum) or obstructions in the ear canal, are common causes of conductive hearing loss at any age, but aging clients usually experience the sensorineural form. Deterioration of nerve receivers in the inner ear along with the weakening of the auditory nerve system are common with aging, though mixed forms due to weakened or damaged ear structures leading to conductive hearing loss is also possible. Long-term exposure to loud noises, increased or prolonged usage of ototoxic medications, and other age-related health conditions also contribute to hearing loss in aging adults.
It is important to maintain healthy hearing throughout your life. Making a conscientious effort to protect yourself from acquired hearing loss through the use of head and ear protection when engaged in certain activities along with receiving proper medical treatment for infections and illnesses goes a long way toward combating hearing loss. I highly recommend regular hearing tests for people of all ages, but it becomes a critical part of regular healthcare among aging clients. The Sound Audiology and Hearing Aids team and I take all types of hearing loss and their causes seriously and we’re eager to provide treatment or preventive care.