Hearing loss is one of the most common conditions in the United States, with an estimated 20% of the population experiencing some degree of it. In this piece, we'll look at the causes of this prolific condition in more detail. 

Age 

Age is arguably the most common cause of hearing loss, with adults between the ages of 60-69 the most likely to experience the condition. 

As we age, hair cells in the inner ear begin to degrade and, over time, will die and cease to function entirely. For the most part, this is a process that occurs naturally; though it can be exacerbated, it can happen to almost everyone. When hair cells die, they cannot be replaced, and as more and more damage occurs, hearing loss develops. The more hair cells that are lost, the greater the hearing loss a person experiences. 

Age-related hearing loss is usually treated with hearing aids. 

Noise 

Another cause of hearing loss is related to exposure to loud noise, particularly noise over 85 decibels. Loud noise can accelerate hair cell loss, which can result in hearing loss starting earlier in life, or worsen the degree of loss older people experience.

For anyone who is regularly exposed to noise over 85 decibels, hearing protection is essential in order to limit or outright prevent hair cell loss. 

As with age-related hearing loss, noise-induced hearing loss is primarily treated with hearing aids.

Health conditions

There are a number of health conditions, both chronic and acute, that can cause hearing loss: 

  • Shingles
  • Meningitis 
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Viral infections (such as measles) 
  • A chronic inner ear condition called Ménière's disease
  • Injury to the ear, head or neck

In some instances, treating the causative health condition can restore hearing capabilities, though in others hearing loss may be permanent, and treatment via hearing aids will be sought.

Obstructions in the ear

There are two types of hearing loss: sensorineural hearing loss (which includes age-related hearing loss and noise-induced hearing loss), and conductive hearing loss. Conductive hearing loss occurs when sound waves cannot reach the inner ear, usually due to an obstruction, such as: 

  • Earwax buildup 
  • Fluid buildup (often as a result of an infection) 
  • Abnormal growths in the ear, such as tumors 
  • Perforation of the eardrum 
  • Scarring on the eardrum 

If the source of the obstruction can be removed, then hearing capabilities can often be restored. If the obstruction cannot be removed, then the hearing loss may be permanent and thus requires treatment.

Medications

Several medications are classed as "ototoxic," which means that they can potentially cause damage to hearing. Medications that are considered to be ototoxic include certain antibiotics, chemotherapy drugs, diuretics and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories. 

Often, hearing capabilities will be restored after discontinuing the medication; in others, the condition may be permanent, and hearing aids may be prescribed. 

If you suspect you may be experiencing hearing loss for any of the above reasons – or for any other reason – arrange an appointment with your audiologist as soon as you possibly can. Hearing loss may be a common condition, but, when identified, it can usually be treated and managed successfully.