Perhaps you’ve noticed you can no longer hear what people are saying when there’s background noise. Or you barely notice extremely loud sounds that used to bother you, like blaring fire engine sirens. Being an active participant in your treatment is easier if you understand what’s causing your hearing loss.
You’ll be able to describe your symptoms more clearly, which will help your doctor identify the underlying cause and find the most optimal solution for you. As you’ll find out, hearing loss has many causes — it can be inherited (genetically) or acquired due to a wide array of risk factors. The causes for hearing loss include:
When you consider the fact that researchers have identified more than 400 genetic syndromes linked to hearing loss, it’s kind of mindboggling. Like so many other conditions and diseases, your genes and family heritage can play a role in hearing loss. Hearing genes can mutate or aging can make some of your genes more susceptible to ear damage or deterioration. Genetic hearing loss may affect the inner ear (sensorineural hearing loss), impact the outer or middle ear (conductive hearing loss), or be mild or severe. Some types of genetic hearing loss only affects males, while others impact females. When babies are born with hearing loss, it’s referred to as congenital. When you develop genetic hearing loss later in life, it may be called adult-onset or progressive, since your hearing gets worse with age.
Hearing impairment caused by disorders is called syndromic hearing loss. This is typically related to malformations of your external ear, along with the presence of additional malformations in other organs or organ systems. If you have no visible deformities of your outer ear or any related medical conditions, this is called non-syndromic hearing loss. Problems in your middle or inner ear are a likely cause of non-syndromic hearing loss. Select syndromes linked to genetic hearing loss:
Advancements in genomics have helped identify more than 6,000 causative variants in more than 150 genes responsible for hearing loss. While thousands of gene therapy clinical studies have been conducted, the risk of serious side effects has hampered its current application for hearing loss.
Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is caused by overexposure to loud noise, from your work environment or leisure activities you enjoy. About 9% of all adult-onset hearing loss is thought to be caused by occupational noise. While noise is usually defined as an unpleasant sound, even beautifully melodic music may lead to NIHL if it is loud enough. If your occupation involves operating loud machinery or you go to loud sporting events or rock concerts, you could develop related hearing problems.
Speaking of music, occupational exposure to loud music is a problem for some living legends. Who guitarist Pete Townsend is nearly deaf and the band’s lead singer Roger Daltrey also suffers from hearing loss. And Eric Clapton has said in interviews that his hearing loss is related to cranking up amps during his youth.
Research studies underscore how a career in music can be harmful to hearing. A German study that analyzed the health insurance records of 7 million people from 2004 to 2008 found working musicians were nearly four times more likely to suffer from NIHL than those in any other profession. An Australian Study was even more specific, analyzing the hearing of 144 professional French horn players. Researchers found 11–22% of players showed some degree of NIHL. It seems that French horn players are among the professional orchestra musicians most at risk of developing this type of hearing loss.
If you’ve ever incurred a traumatic brain injury (TBI), including a concussion, perhaps you experienced hearing issues. Most people with head injuries suffer some temporary cognitive, motor, or sensory issues. Some experience permanent physical, intellectual, or behavioral deficits. Trauma-related damage can cause conductive and sensorineural hearing loss, central auditory processing problems, balance issues, and tinnitus.
The most extensive research on this topic has been conducted on veterans with warfare-related head trauma. A retrospective review of 250 veterans with mild TBI found 87% experienced some degree of hearing loss. Blast injuries caused more hearing issues than other types of TBI.
When your head is subjected to a sudden and violent blow, this can cause a complex mixture of diffuse and focal lesions in your brain. One of the possible side effects is damage to any point within your auditory pathway. The eardrum, middle ear, and inner ear are the most common sites of peripheral injury because they are in a direct line of the trauma. The hair cells are the most vulnerable elements of your inner ear. When they’re damaged, you may experience sensorineural hearing loss and tinnitus. You’ll likely have difficulty distinguishing between multiple sound sources or understanding conversations if there is background noise.
Most common TBI-Related Hearing-Related Symptoms are:
Hearing loss may improve at some point post-injury, however, in some cases, it can persist or worsen. The good news is a variety of treatment options can improve the quality of life for people with TBI-related hearing issues.
But what illnesses and diseases cause hearing loss? There are several illnesses and diseases that can cause hearing loss, including specific types of brain tumors, viruses, cholesteatoma, Meniere’s disease, otosclerosis, and Paget’s disease. Although many of these conditions are rare, it’s important to keep in mind that more common and preventable viruses can lead to hearing loss.
If you’re straining to hear during conversations, have pain or ringing in your ears, or are experiencing a feeling of fullness, it’s time to see your doctor. Your licensed hearing care professional may refer you to an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat doctor) or an audiologist (a health professional who can identify and measure hearing loss). You can also see one of these specialists first if your insurance plan covers this without a referral. It’s important to keep in mind sudden hearing loss is a medical emergency that requires immediate attention.
It's time to finally treat your hearing loss. Sign up for a free consultation with a licensed hearing care professional today to determine if you have hearing loss. It’s the start of your journey towards better hearing.