// About Hearing Loss

Hearing loss is common and a normal part of getting older. The major kinds of hearing losses are sensorineural or conductive. Sensorineural hearing loss or “nerve deafness” is caused by damage to or deterioration of the tiny sound-sensing hair cells in the inner ear. It can be due to aging (called presbycusis) or to exposure to loud noise (noise-induced hearing loss). Because the nerve cells can no longer effectively transmit electrical impulses, you lose some ability to hear. Other causes are high fever, head trauma and certain drugs.

What are the signs of hearing loss?

While a history of hearing loss in your family or exposure to high noise levels may cause hearing loss, the easiest way to identify hearing loss is to notice how your hearing affects your daily life. You are probably the best judge of whether your hearing has declined.

You should have your hearing checked if you have experienced more than a couple of these signs of hearing loss.

  • Tired or stressed from trying to hear
  • Believe that everybody mumbles
  • Find it easier to understand others when you are looking directly at their faces
  • Frequently ask others to repeat themselves
  • Increase television or radio volume to a point that others complain
  • Have difficulty understanding speech in noisy places like cars, restaurants and theaters.
  • Fail to understand doctor’s instructions about medications
  • Make inappropriate responses because you didn’t understand the question
  • Miss essential sounds like doorbells, alarm clocks, smoke alarms
  • Have trouble hearing on the telephone
  • Turn one ear towards a speaker to hear better

How does your hearing work?

As sound passes through each ear, it sets off a chain reaction. The outer ear collects pressure (sound) waves and funnels them through to the ear canal. These vibrations strike the eardrum. The eardrum vibrates the delicate bones of the middle ear that conduct the vibrations into fluid in the inner ear. The vibrations stimulate tiny nerve endings (hair cells) that transform vibrations into electro-chemical impulses. The impulses travel to the brain where they are understood as sounds, such as speech, music, or noise.

Causes of Hearing Loss

In the United Kingdom there are around nine million deaf and hard of hearing people. There are many reasons for this, of which they can either be congenital, meaning before birth, or acquired, meaning after birth. Below is a list of causes:

Age

This is the most common cause of hearing loss, with around 6.5 million of those deaf and hard of hearing people in the UK being aged over 60. Hearing loss due to ageing is a natural process called Presbycusis and can not be stopped. Hearing aids can be a great help to those who have hearing problems due to ageing.

Noise

Hearing loss because of noise is dependent on both the level of noise and the length of exposure, though even short exposure to loud noise can sometimes cause hearing loss. The effects are unlikely to take consequence until later life, and symptoms are likely to go unnoticed, which is why you should be careful in environments such as loud clubs, and when using ear phones. At work, employers are required by ‘Noise at Work’ regulations to take precautions for the safety of your hearing.

Genetics

Hearing loss caused by genetics is because DNA has been affected, or as scientists term, mutated. For instance, if a mutated gene interferes with some part of the hearing process it can cause deafness. Genetic conditions that cause hearing loss include Usher’s Syndrome, where people are born hard of hearing and also later develop vision problems, and Teacher Collins Syndrome, which is a defect affecting facial development.

Injury

Head trauma, puncturing of the eardrum, possibly by foreign objects such as cotton swabs, and quick changes in air pressure are forms of injury that can cause hearing loss.

Earwax

Earwax is made by the body to clean and lubricate the ears, and also provides protection against bacteria. However, ear wax can build up on occasion and this may cause the ear canal to become obstructed, blocking the path of sound. This condition is usually easily remedied.

Ear Infections

Ear infections, sometimes known as Otitis Media, are caused by bacteria, and can cause swelling in the middle ear and the build up of fluid, obstructing the travel of sound.

Tinnitus

Tinnitus is a ringing or buzzing in the head that often sounds like it is coming from outside, though the sound can differ in many cases. It can often sound like it is beating in tune with your heart beat, known as Pulsatile Tinnitus. It can be awkward and distressing for those affected, but is not life threatening.

Tumours

Tumours are swellings created by the irregular growth of cells, of which both malignant and benign tumours can cause hearing loss. One such tumour is Cholesteatoma, which is a benign skin cyst that dissolves nearby bones as it gradually grows.

Ototoxic Drugs

Ototoxic drugs are often part of the treatment used for serious diseases such as cancer, hearing loss being one of the possible side effects. The medication can damage hair cells in the inner ear, and can be found in some antibiotics.

Diseases

Diseases that cause hearing loss are numerous. They include Meningitis, the inflammation of the lining of the brain; Ménière’s disease, a disorder of the inner ear characterised by vertigo and tinnitus; Otosclerosis, an irregular growth of bones in the ear; and Glue ear, a condition common in young children where liquid builds up behind the eardrum, initially runny, only to become thicker.

Other Factors

Sudden hearing loss is when your hearing degrades over a very quick period of time and can be caused by many of the above, including tumours and tinnitus. If you develop sudden hearing loss it is recommended you seek out urgent medical assistance.

Smoking and Obesity have also been linked to hearing loss.