There are many causes of hearing loss: ageing, infection, head injury, exposure to noise, genetic factors and certain medication. The sound we hear is transferred from the environment around us into our ears where it causes vibrations in the outer and middle portions of the ear until it reaches the inner ear where it moves tiny hair cells and registers as sound in the hearing nerve. A problem with any one of these processes can cause a hearing loss.
A hearing loss due to old age is not preventable. It is possible, however, to prevent a noise induced hearing loss by always wearing ear protectors/plugs when you are exposed to loud noise. It is important to note that you can damage your hearing by having your earphones turned up too loud.
Exposure to loud noises can cause a temporary hearing loss and prolonged exposure to loud noises can cause a permanent hearing loss. The hair cells in the inner ear become damaged and do not regenerate. It is important always to wear ear protection if you are in a noisy environment for any length of time.
As you get older the hair cells in your inner ear become less effective and, as a result, the hearing deteriorates. It is usually the high frequencies that are most affected, leading to problems with speech discrimination. The onset and development of this process is different for every patient.
A cochlear implant is a device used to treat children or adults who have profound hearing loss. It is an implanted device which directly stimulates the inner ear and hearing nerve. Cochlear implants can improve hearing in people whose hearing loss is so severe they cannot be helped with even the most powerful hearing aids.
Ear protectors are designed to reduce the effects of loud noise by reducing the level of noise that can enter your ears. They are available in 2 different models; small ear plugs that fit inside your ears and ear muffs that sit over your ears.
If you feel that you are missing out on conversation with family groups and friends or if you cannot hear your TV or radio, then you might benefit from wearing a hearing aid. A hearing aid may help you to hear better and allow you to lead a more active/social life again.
Avoidance of excessive noise and the wearing of protectors when in a noisy work environment can help to prevent a noise induced hearing loss. For age related hearing loss, there isn’t a lot that can be done to slow the deterioration, but fortunately in most cases hearing loss progresses slowly.
Hearing loss is more common in the older population, however a person of any age can develop a hearing loss. It is estimated that 1 in 7 of the general population have a significant hearing loss. Recent figures suggest that 42% of over 50’s have a significant hearing loss, this increases to 68% for the over 80’s. A small number of babies are born with a hearing loss.
In most cases hearing loss in not inherited from one’s parents but acquired as a results of infections or just part of the ageing process. However, in children born with profound hearing loss and, in some cases, hearing loss occurring in middle ages such as otosclerosis, genetics also plays a role. In some families, age related hearing loss could also be genetic.
Causes of hearing loss can be divided into congenital (present at birth) and acquired (developed after birth). Causes of congenital hearing loss may include events that occur before or during birth. Problems such as lack of oxygen, infections and metabolic problems may cause severe damage to the inner ear. Acquired causes of hearing loss include severe infections during childhood such as meningitis and persistent, long lasting ear infections. Some drugs, such as anti-cancer drugs and those used to treat severe infections can cause a hearing loss. On rare occasions, a tumour of the brain or the nerve of hearing can also cause deafness.
The permanency of your hearing loss depends on the cause. Some hearing losses are temporary. However, most hearing losses, like age related hearing losses are permanent. You can regain useful hearing by wearing properly fitted, good quality hearing aid(s).
If you think you have a hearing loss you should contact your Clinical Audiologist for a hearing assessment.