When we think of hearing loss, our minds often go to the golden years of life. Indeed, most people experience some form of hearing loss if they make it beyond the age of 70. Although age-related and noise-induced hearing loss are the most common forms of hearing loss, they are not alone.
Another common form is “acquired” hearing loss, meaning that they happen after birth. The other major form of “congenital” hearing loss occurs prior to birth and may be caused by a number of factors. Let’s take a moment to consider some of the causes of acquired hearing loss. In addition to age-related hearing loss and noise-induced hearing loss, several other forms are responsible for hearing loss that takes place after birth.
In addition to these common forms of acquired hearing loss, more rare causes exist, as well. Several common illnesses can cause temporary or permanent hearing loss in some cases. Take, for instance, chicken pox. Many children develop this illness, but in very bad cases, it can lead to hearing loss. Even the common flu can lead to hearing loss in rare cases. Other illnesses that can cause hearing loss include meningitis, measles, mumps, and encephalitis.
Ear infections are a common cause of hearing loss, though that loss tends to be temporary. Bacteria can be trapped in fluid in the middle ear, causing inflammation and a bacterial condition that overwhelms the canal. When a bacterial infection occurs, temporary hearing loss can take place, and the resolution of the infection tends to resolve the experience of hearing loss, as well. However, in some cases, repeated ear infections or extreme cases can lead to permanent damage.
Head injuries are another cause of acquired hearing loss. In some cases, the relationship is direct. A head injury that damages the outer ear, ear canal, or the auditory nervous system will also bring about hearing loss in that region of the sound pathway. Some examples of head injuries include automobile accidents or accidents while using recreational vehicles.
In addition to these direct head impacts, injuries to specific features of the ear, such as the eardrum or the sensitive bones in the middle ear, can cause hearing loss, as well. Though these injuries have a direct relationship with hearing loss, brain injuries and concussions can cause hearing loss more indirectly. When the brain is jostled within the skull, a chain reaction of sensory malfunction can occur. In each case, head protection in the form of a properly affixed helmet is the best way to prevent not only head injuries but also the subsequent possibility of hearing loss.
Certain medications and poisonous substances can cause hearing loss, as well. Otherwise known as ototoxic chemicals, a person can be intentionally or unintentionally exposed to them. Sometimes an airborne chemical can cause hearing loss, sometimes originating in an industrial environment, but medication is also a possible cause of ototoxicity. Chemotherapy, though lifesaving, introduces harsh substances into the body with the hope of eradicating cancerous cells. Some of these treatments can cause ototoxic hearing loss, and doctors and patients balance the likelihood of successful cancer remission against the possibility of permanent hearing damage.
Noise and Age
Although these causes of acquired hearing loss are possible, they remain relatively rare, and the effects are sometimes temporary. Beyond these causes of acquired hearing loss, the causal factors of noise and age remain the most common.
Noise-induced hearing loss can occur due to a sudden blast or car accident, but it can also happen through periodic exposure over time. Anyone who works in a loud workplace should be supplied hearing protection to guard against this slow and steady exposure that can lead to noise-induced hearing loss.
Leisure noise is on the rise among causes of hearing loss, not only from concerts, dance clubs, and sporting events, but also wearing headphones for prolonged periods of time at high volumes. Beyond noise exposure, the natural process of aging is the final major cause of hearing loss. Experts disagree about the biological mechanism that makes hearing ability deteriorate over time, but it remains a fact that at least two thirds of people over the age of 70 have some form of hearing loss.