As we get older, it’s common to blame our ailments on old age. Hearing loss, for example, is often attributed to increasing age; however, it’s a lot more complicated than being an “old age” issue.
What Causes Hearing Loss?
Too much exposure to loud noises can permanently damage the ear, especially the delicate hairs and nerves of the ear. This usually won’t cause hearing loss unless there is frequent exposure over time or one extremely loud incident. Be mindful of things like how loud you are listening to music or your proximity to large speakers at events.
This is an often-overlooked cause of hearing loss. Genetic factors can influence how ears are developed and structured. The formation of the ear itself, such as bone or tissue growth at birth or over time, can cause hearing impairment.
Certain medications, including antibiotics and diuretics, can damage the inner ear. There are often medications used for treating major infections, cancer, and heart disease. Even extremely high amounts of aspirin have the potential to cause hearing loss.
Physical injury can damage the ear itself, its nerves, or the pathways from the ear to the brain and cause hearing loss. This damage may be caused by a sudden blow to the ear or an object entering the ear. Similarly, any injury of the brain that is connected to the ability to hear can also cause hearing loss.
There are several health conditions, including the typical ear infection, that may cause hearing loss:
- High blood pressure
- Heart conditions
Certain viruses and bacteria may also cause ear infections that impact hearing.
There are also a variety of diseases that can affect the ears and their ability to hear. For example, Ménière’s disease affects the inner ear and can not only cause hearing loss but also sensitivity to loud sounds and ringing in the ear.
The eardrum is what separates the outer ear from the inner ear. When sound waves enter the ear, they cause the eardrum to vibrate. Those vibrations move through the ear all the way to the brain—this is essentially how we “hear” things.
As an integral part of the hearing process, a ruptured eardrum can cause hearing loss. Infection, intense pressure, or objects entering the ear can cause a ruptured eardrum.
Getting older is a common cause of hearing loss, but it’s not as simple as it may seem. Age-related hearing loss is called presbycusis, a complex disorder that encompasses the cumulative effect of aging on the ability to hear. It occurs over many years, typically in both ears and at the same gradual rate.
Buildup of Fluid or Earwax
Excess earwax or fluid in the ear can cause a hearing impairment by blocking the movement of vibrations (sounds) from the eardrum to the inner ear. Wax blockages can be easily cleaned with proper care at home, or a doctor might recommend treatment. Fluid buildup is often caused by allergies, infections, or the common cold and should clear up as that condition improves.
What To Do Next
Hearing loss affects more than just the ability to hear. If you suspect you’re experiencing hearing loss, the best thing you can do is get a professional opinion.