We have a tendency to take hearing for granted when we are young, but it starts to get our attention as we age. Although hearing loss most often accompanies old age, it can affect the young under certain circumstances. In order to properly diagnose and treat hearing loss, I have to determine its cause. Providing a better understanding of the causes of hearing loss is one way I help keep my patients informed and encourage greater awareness of hearing loss and ways to prevent it.
Two Forms of Hearing Loss
There are two main forms of hearing loss; conductive and sensorineural. Conductive hearing loss occurs when sound wave signals traveling along the hearing pathway become weaker or meet an obstruction in the outer or middle ear. In contrast, sensorineural hearing loss relates to damage to the signal receiving nerves and audio nerve transmission from the inner ear to the brain. These two causes of hearing loss can be independent of each other or in combination, known as mixed hearing loss.
Hearing Loss in Younger Patients
The cause of hearing loss in younger patients can be conductive, sensorineural, or mixed. Hearing loss causes in younger patients usually relate to conductive hearing loss. With children and teens, audiologists make a further distinction between congenital hearing impairment or acquired hearing loss causes.
Congenital Hearing Impairment
This form of hearing loss is present when a person is born. Causes of congenital hearing loss might include malformation of the outer, middle, or inner ear structures during fetal development. Congenital hearing loss can come from illnesses, infections, or complications during pregnancy. Babies born prematurely are at high risk for this type of hearing impairment.
Acquired Hearing Loss
Skull fractures and other head trauma injuries can cause acquired hearing loss. Its cause can be from diseases such as mumps, measles, chickenpox, a brain tumor, or repeated ear infections. Certain medications, known as ototoxic medications (NSAIDs, quinine, some antibiotics and antidepressants, and others), can cause temporary or permanent hearing loss as well. Another common cause of acquired hearing loss occurs due to continuous exposure to loud noise.
Hearing Loss in Aging Patients
According to statistics cited by American Family Physician, “Hearing loss affects approximately one-third of adults 61 to 70 years of age and more than 80 percent of those older than 85 years.” Although many conditions, including damage to the tympanic membrane (eardrum) or obstructions in the ear canal, can cause conductive hearing loss at any age, sensorineural is the most common cause of hearing loss in aging patients. Deterioration of ear structures leading to conductive hearing loss is possible, but hearing loss in the aging usually results from deterioration of nerve receivers in the inner ear along with the weakening of the auditory nerve system. These can be the result of long-term exposure to loud noises, increased or prolonged usage of ototoxic medications, and other health conditions common to aging adults.
Maintaining healthy hearing throughout your life is important. Conscientious efforts to protect yourself from various forms of acquired hearing loss through wearing head and ear protection during certain activities and receiving proper medical treatment for infections and illnesses goes a long way toward combating hearing loss in younger patients. I promote regular hearing screenings for patients of all ages, but especially among aging patients in order to achieve early diagnosis and treatment. The Aim Hearing and Audiology family in Greensboro, NC helps me to provide the best hearing health care in the area.
Contact me to learn more about the various causes of hearing loss or schedule a screening at Aim Hearing and Audiology by calling (336) 295-1064.