Why Does Hearing Loss Happen? 24 Causes

In this article, you will learn why you may experience hearing loss. There are actually many reasons for hearing loss. Some of them are easily reversible like an accumulation of earwax in your ear that keeps the sounds from getting into your ears correctly. Before we begin with the reasons why hearing loss happens you should understand how hearing actually works.

Under normal conditions, sound waves cause the eardrum to vibrate. The hammer, anvil, and stirrup – the three ossicles in the middle ear – amplify the mechanical vibrations and pass them on to the cochlea of the inner ear. Here, the hair cells process them into electrical impulses. These impulses are transmitted via the nerve pathways of the auditory nerve to the auditory center of the brain. There they are converted into a sound and thus into information.

If there is a disorder or disease on the path between the auditory canal and the brain – this is called hearing loss.

Possible Causes of This Hearing Loss:

  • Malformation of the auricle
  • Malformation of the ear canal
  • Tubal occlusion, tubal catarrh
  • Clogged ear canal due to earwax plug (cerumen obturans) or foreign body, inflammation of the ear canal (otitis externa)
  • Middle ear effusion (tympanic effusion)
  • Scarring of the middle ear due to inflammation
  • Distortions of the ossicular chain due to injuries (skull fracture)
  • Tympanic membrane: inflammation (myringitis), hole formation (perforation) or tearing (rupture)
  • Otosclerosis
  • Inflammation of the middle ear
  • Conductive hearing loss generally offers good treatment options. Very good treatment results can also be achieved with hearing aids.
  • Diabetes

Environmental and Health Related Causes for Hearing Loss:

  • Explosion or loud noise during work over an extended time
  • Smoking
  • Hypertension and cardiovascular disease

The hearing damage caused by loud and continuous exposure to noise and sounds is already well known. Therefore, hearing loss is one of the recognized occupational diseases in certain occupational fields. Less researched, however, appears to be the hearing loss that occurs after a short, loud bang (e.g., after an explosion). The resulting acoustic trauma leads to permanent sensorineural hearing loss.

Ototoxic Medications Which Could Cause Hearing Loss:

  • Aspirin
  • Aminoglycosides
  • Vancomycin
  • Cisplatin
  • Quinine
  • Furosemide
  • Ethacrynic acid

Why Hearing Loss in One Ear

Causes, why you have hearing loss in one ear, can be otitis media, otosclerosis, malformations such as incomplete auricle, or a missing auditory canal. Head injuries that damage the ossicular chain are also possible causes. They usually range from mild to more severe hearing loss.

But also “ear infarction” can be the cause hearing problems in one ear. It happens suddenly on one side and can even lead to permanent hearing loss – without any obvious cause. Typically, the affected person experiences a dull feeling in the ear. Many patients describe the acute hearing loss as “absorbent cotton in the ear”, noises in the ear (acute tinnitus) can be added.

Why Does Hearing Loss With Increased Age Is More Likely

With increasing age, however, the so-called hair cells in the ears suffer in particular and can no longer process sound as thoroughly as they did in younger years. They wear out and older people no longer perceive acoustic stimuli as clearly.

The performance of the hearing decreases in the course of life. From the age of 50, this often becomes measurable and, in many cases, noticeable. Hearing loss is mainly due to wear and tear in the inner ear. In addition, the auditory nerve and the auditory center show age-related impairments.

In addition, other factors can lead to hearing loss in old age. Environmental noise, in particular, should be mentioned here, but medications, nicotine consumption, obesity, diseases, and genetic predisposition can also contribute to age-related hearing loss.

Such age-related hearing loss in our society is usually treated with modern, digital hearing aids. If the hearing loss is very severe, it can also be treated with hearing implants. There is no medical cure for age-related hearing loss. There are also amplifiers for telephones.

How Do People With Hearing Loss Stand Out?

People with hearing loss are exhausted more quickly because the hearing process requires more effort and concentration. This is especially true when there is a lot of noise and they need to concentrate on a discussion. Early signs of hearing problems may be noticeable in the following ways: Overhearing nature sounds such as the rustling of leaves, the ocean, or birds chirping.

In later stages, the volume of the TV gets adjusted to higher levels. The sound of the doorbell could be overheard as well as cars.

Hearing Loss With Age Graph

In the diagram below you can see the hearing loss by age. The older people get the more likely hearing loss becomes. At the age of 50 years old, you can see the first bump compared to younger people. In most cases, a hearing loss that is related to aging shows a need for more amplification in the higher frequencies. This means high-pitched sounds can not be heard correctly anymore.

Prevalence of Hearing Loss in the U.S. by Age, 2001-2008. Tatsuya Yamasoba et al. 2013. Hearing loss is defined by a PTA of 0.5–4 kHz thresholds in the better-hearing ear >25 dB.

The result is special sounds get overheard by the person with hearing loss. Those mostly include words with s, th or some people with higher-pitched voices are harder to understand. Not only do people need to perceive a broad frequency spectrum correctly for understanding speech but also for orienting themselves in relation to a sound source.

People with hearing loss oftentimes lack the ability to locate where a sound is coming from correctly. Even with hearing aids, this ability is oftentimes not corrected perfectly. The reason is the perceivable frequency spectrum in combination with the loudspeakers of the hearing aids. Not only are younger people less likely to have a hearing loss they can also perceive a broader frequency spectrum compared to the elderly.

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