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.
As to the possible causes of hearing loss, the most common is aging, known technically as age-related hearing loss, or 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. These are both examples of what is called sensorineural hearing loss, and although these conditions can rarely be reversed or eliminated, they can easily be treated using hearing aids to amplify and filter the sounds you hear.
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. 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.
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, M√©ni√®re’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. Hearing loss is in most cases progressive, meaning that ignoring it or pretending that it isn’t there will not get rid of the problem and may cause the hearing loss to become worse, or permanent.