Why? It’s the number question by our patients. The definition of hearing loss is simple: you are unable to hear normal conversations. It’s also extremely common with over 22 million hearing impaired Americans and 10 million suffering from hearing loss.
There are many possible causes of hearing loss, but the most common is age-related hearing loss, or presbycusis, which is caused by simply getting older. As we age, the sensitive hair cells and nerves in our inner ears either become damaged or start to degenerate; the effect of this is hearing loss – often experienced as being unable to hear women’s or children’s voices, or to be able to tell the difference between consonants such as 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.
Another condition is conductive hearing loss, meaning that something is blocking the passage of sounds from the outer ear to the eardrum, and the most common cause of this is a buildup of ear wax, which can be easily treated and eliminated. This type of hearing loss may also be caused by a buildup of fluid in the middle ear, by otosclerosis (abnormal bone growth that renders the inner ear less able to transmit and understand sounds), and by the eardrum having been perforated or scarred.
Hearing loss can also occur as a result of exposure to certain medications, such as antibiotics and some drugs used to treat cancer, and as a result of infections of the middle ear or ear canal. There are also common diseases that may result in hearing loss, such as diabetes, Meniere’s disease, a form of non cancerous tumor called acoustic neuroma, heart disease, and stroke.
The best advice we can give you if you suspect you are losing your hearing is to make an appointment to have your hearing tested, so that we may advise you as to possible causes of the condition, and how best to 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.