Did you know that hearing loss is the third most common chronic health condition people experience today? Over 48 million people in the U.S. have some degree of hearing loss. And according to the World Health Organization, over 1 billion people are at increased risk of impaired hearing.
So who can develop hearing loss and what causes it? Well, first it is important to understand that people of all ages can and do experience hearing loss. There are three types of impaired hearing: sensorineural, conductive, and mixed. Sensorineural hearing loss is by far the most common, accounting for 90% of the hearing loss that people experience today. It can either be acquired which means that it developed later in life, or congenital which refers to being born with hearing loss. Acquired hearing loss is the more common of the two and can occur at any point in one’s life. Understanding the causes of hearing loss can help you take the steps to protect your hearing health.
Acquired hearing loss most often results from damage to the hair cells in the inner ear. There are thousands of these sensory cells in each ear which play an integral role in how we hear and process sound. Hair cells convert incoming soundwaves into electrical signals that are then carried to the brain. The brain is then able to further process and assign meaning to these signals which is how we can understand what we hear. Several factors can damage hair cells, leading to hearing loss. A few common causes of hearing loss include:
- Aging: aging is the greatest indicator of hearing loss. Known as presbycusis, age-related hearing loss impacts older adults disproportionately. The National Institutes of Health estimates that 1 in 3 adults 65-74 has hearing loss and 1 in 2 adults ages 75 and older. This can be caused by a few factors including existing medical conditions that older adults are also disproportionately impacted by which increases the risk of hearing loss. Additionally, the cumulative toll of noise exposure on the auditory system can also contribute to age-related hearing loss as well as changes to the ears over time.
- Loud Noise: one time or consistent exposure to loud noise is a major cause of hearing loss. Loud noise can damage the hair cells in the inner ear which play a critical role in how we understand and process sound. They convert incoming soundwaves into electrical signals that get sent to the brain to further analyze. The brain is then able to assign meaning which enables us to understand what we hear. Loud noise can cause hair cells to lose sensitivity which can lead to them dying over time, preventing this essential function from being carried out. There are thousands of hair cells in each ear, and unlike other types of cells, they do not regenerate. This means that any damage is permanent, resulting in hearing loss.
- Medical Conditions: numerous existing medical conditions can increase the risk of developing hearing loss. This includes heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension. These conditions affect the flow of blood throughout the body, including the ear which can impact the auditory system – the sensory system for hearing.
- Head/Neck Injuries: injuries to the head and/or neck area can also cause hearing loss. Injuries can damage components of the heating system including hair cells in the inner ear.
Other causes of hearing loss include inner ear disorders, chronic ear infections, and specific medications.
Hearing loss reduces an individual’s capacity to hear and process speech and sound. This produces a range of symptoms including the following:
- Tinnitus: a ringing or buzzing like noise in one or both ears
- Sounds are distorted, muffled, or slurred
- Turning up the volume on the TV or other electronic devices like smartphone
- Frequently asking others to repeat words or speak louder
- Hearing better out of one ear compared to the other
- Difficulty hearing in environments with background noise
- Feeling fatigued after social interactions and conversations with others
- Missing parts of a conversation, feeling confused
These symptoms can be experienced intermittently to chronically, taking a toll on daily communication and capacity to complete regular tasks.
Treatment for Hearing Loss
Contact us today to schedule an appointment or a hearing test. Having your hearing assessed is the first step towards transforming your hearing health.