Hearing loss is on the rise among children, adolescents, middle-aged, and older Americans due to a range of causes-- the advancement of technologies, large tools and trade equipment in the workplace, and increasing use of medications that are toxic to the ears. It is now conservatively estimated that 39 million people suffer from bilateral or unilateral hearing loss in the United States and 500 million people worldwide. Surprisingly, the number one cause of hearing loss is noise. Other top causes of hearing loss are even less well known.
There are many causes for hearing loss, but only three types of hearing loss-sensorineural (inner ear damage), conductive (outer or middle ear damage), and mixed (inner, and outer or middle ear damage). Some of the most destructive causes of hearing loss, like noise induced hearing loss (NIHL), are preventable.
NOISE—loud noises can damage the delicate hair cells within the inner ear. Inside the ear are small, delicate hairs that help conduct the noise that constitutes your hearing. Injury to these hair cells comes from exposure, sudden or prolonged, to loud noises. This can result in temporary or permanent hearing loss. Turning down the sound on MP3 players or wearing protective hearing devices or plugs can help people avoid this cause of hearing loss.
•Noise induced hearing loss is one of the top causes of hearing loss for military personnel.
• 12 percent of children between the ages of six and 19 suffer from noise-induced hearing loss — about 5.2 million kids.
•Exposure to a noisy subway for 15 minutes daily can permanently damage hearing over time.
TRAUMA—difference in pressure on inside and outside of the eardrum, plane or scuba diving, can cause it to burst. Trauma can also happen with any object inserted into the ear, viral infection, or injury due to explosive concussion--which is another reason many people in the military suffer from hearing loss.
•Hearing loss is the most self-reported work-related condition.
•14% of the adult population has hearing loss.
PRESBYCUSIS— is a cause of hearing loss that occurs because of gradual changes in the ear due to aging. It happens in one out of three people over the age of sixty and in two-thirds of people over the age of seventy and in most cases can be relieved through the use of hearing aids.
•30-40% of people over 65 have some type of hearing loss.
•Researchers have linked a hormone called aldosterone to the quality of our hearing as we age.
OTOTOXICITY—medications, especially those for depression, can increase hearing loss, cause hearing loss, or result in temporary hearing loss. Consult your hearing health professional for a list of these medications or to find out about alternatives to medications that can damage your hearing.
•There are hundreds of different medications, including many over the counter medications, which can cause hearing loss.
FLUID—the presence of fluid in the inner ear can cause hearing loss in addition to other symptoms like ringing in the ears (tinnitus), vertigo, nausea and vomiting all of which could be signs of Meniere’s disease.
•The prevalence of hearing loss among US adolescents has risen by about 30% since 1994.
•Even a mild hearing loss can cause a child to miss as much as 50% of classroom discussion.
WAX—having wax in the ear is generally a good thing. It lubricates, protects, and helps keep ears clean. Too much ear wax can impede hearing. A gentle solution can be used to clear the ears, but if the wax proves stubborn it is much safer to see a certified hearing health professional to have your ears cleaned than to attempt to remove stubborn wax.
•NEVER clean the ear with a cotton swab, oral jet irrigators or ear candling. These practices invariably do more harm than good.
SCARRING—autoimmune diseases or hereditary conditions can cause excess scarring within the ear, interfering with normal hearing functions.
•People with hearing loss wait an average of 7 years before seeking help.
TUMORS—tumors on the ear can be either benign or malignant. They can occur within the inner ear or outside of it. Only a doctor certified in the care of hearing health issues can diagnose and treat tumors of the ear.
•15 million people in the United States with hearing loss avoid seeking help.
DIABETES--diabetics are more likely to suffer from hearing loss for the same reasons that they are more likely to have problems with their circulation and heart—glucose overload. There are some steps diabetics can take to help ward of hearing loss.
•Diabetics also have less enabling keratin which usually helps earwax to be removed.
OTOSCLEROSIS—an abnormal growth within the inner ear that prevents the ear from vibrating and conducting sound. It is thought to be hereditary and may be accompanied by ringing in the ears (tinnitus).
•Otosclerosis can be inherited and is 25% more likely if one parent has it and 50% more likely if two parents have it.
•The disease is usually bilateral, affecting both ears.
EXOSTOSIS--Abnormal growth of bone in the outer ear canal is associated with cold weather sports, specifically surfing in cold ocean waters. This growth blocks the ear and causes ear infections and can also result in hearing loss.
•Exotosis is the body’s way of protecting ears from cold wind and water.
Some of the top causes of hearing loss can be avoided through awareness or relieved through regular visits to a hearing health professional. If you’ve noticed changes in your hearing contact your hearing health professional. Hearing loss is a serious condition that needs to be remedied. Untreated hearing loss can result in devastating long term complications including depression, isolation, stress, dementia, and Alzheimer’s.
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Fact Sheet the Center for Hearing and Communication taken on Nov 23, 2011 retrieved from: http://www.chchearing.org/about-hearing-loss/facts-about-hearing-loss
Michigan State University Author unknown (n.d.) EFFECTS OF MINIMAL HEARING LOSS ON STUDENT PERFORMANCE IN THE CLASSROOM taken on Oct 6, 2011 retrieved from: https://www.msu.edu/~huffma23/
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (2011), Childhood Hearing Loss, taken on Oct 6, 2011 retrieved from: http://www.asha.org/uploadedFiles/AIS-Hearing-Loss-Childhood.pdf