This is one of the questions we are asked most often. There are many reasons why you could have experienced some hearing loss, but the most important thing to know is that if you have, you are not alone – 22 million Americans have some degree of impaired hearing, and 10 million of them qualify as having hearing loss, as defined by having difficulty hearing normal conversations.
We lose our hearing for countless reasons but more often than not hearing deteriorates as we get older. This type of age-related hearing loss is known as presbycusis. Over time, the nerves and hair cells of the inner ear become damaged and begin to degenerate, making it more difficult to hear high-pitched sounds such as the sounds of women’s or children’s voices, or to be able to distinguish between consonants like S, T, K, P, and F.
The second most frequent cause of hearing loss is known as acoustic trauma or noise-induced hearing loss (NIMH), and happens when you have been exposed repeatedly to loud noises. This can affect young people as well as the elderly, especially if they are frequently around loud music, noisy equipment such as power mowers or motorcycles. Both of these conditions are examples of sensorineural hearing loss and in many cases cannot be easily reversed, only treated using hearing aids or other technologies to amplify the sounds you can no longer hear and filter them to make them more understandable.
Conductive hearing loss is different, and is characterized by a blockage in the ear canal that prevents sound from reaching the eardrum; the most common cause of this is the most easily treated and reversed, a buildup of ear wax. Other types of conductive hearing loss may be caused by perforation or scarring of the eardrum, by a buildup of fluid in the middle ear, or by otosclerosis, an abnormal bone formation that causes the inner ear to become less flexible and thus less effective at transmitting and understanding sounds.
Other known causes for hearing loss are infections in the ear canal and middle ear, as well as medications including antibiotics and drugs used in cancer treatment. Disease can also create hearing loss: Meniere’s disease, diabetes, heart disease, acoustic neuroma (non cancerous tumors on the bones of the middle ear), and stroke can all create conditions in the ear where hearing is damaged.
The important thing, if you are experiencing any degree of hearing loss, is to make an appointment so that we can test your hearing and determine what the cause of it may be and advise you on how to best treat it. Your hearing loss won’t go away if you ignore it or pretend that it’s not there, and in many cases it can become worse or permanent by ignoring it, so don’t put off consulting a professional hearing specialist.