Common Causes of Hearing Loss

Hearing loss affects about 48 million people in the US and 360 million people worldwide, making it one of the most common health conditions in the world.

There are many factors that cause hearing loss. Some causes are genetic and some are environmental. While some causes of hearing loss can be avoided with safety precautions, others, unfortunately, are unavoidable.

Below are some of the most common causes of hearing loss in both children and adults:

Hereditary Causes

Hereditary hearing loss is inherited from the parents. Depending on the factors involved, the hearing loss can be sensorineural, conductive, or mixed. Some hereditary causes are syndromic, meaning the hearing loss is caused by an underlying hereditary health condition (such as illness or malfunctions in the outer ear).

Some cases of hearing loss are inherited through genes. Genetic risk factors can often be determined with gene testing.

Ototoxic Medication

Certain drugs can be ototoxic (damaging to the ear) when taken for a prolonged period or when taken in large doses. Some ototoxic drugs include, antibiotics, loop diuretics, aspirin (in large doses), and some chemotherapy drugs (including carboplatin and cisplatin, among others),

Illness

Certain illnesses can cause hearing loss as a side effect. Some illnesses known to cause hearing loss include: meningitis, measles, mumps, otosclerosis (a disease of the middle ear), HIV/AIDS, and presbycusis, among others.

Meniere’s disease is also known to cause hearing loss in adults. The disease affects the inner ear and common symptoms include tinnitus, vertigo, and sensorineural hearing loss.  Hearing loss caused by the disease can vary from mild to severe.

Exposure to Loud Noise

Noise-induced hearing loss is very common in adults but can also affect children. In fact, about 12.5% of children in the US (ages 6 to 19 years old) have some degree of noise-induced hearing loss. Prolonged exposure to loud sounds above 85 decibels can cause permanent hearing loss.

In some cases, a one-time exposure to a very loud noise (such as an explosion) can cause sudden hearing loss that may either be temporary or permanent.

Aging

Hearing loss is a common side effect of aging. As we age, a number of hair cells in the inner ear deteriorate and lose their function. 1 in 3 people aged 65 and above develop hearing loss.

Otits Media

Otitis media or inflammation of the middle ear is a common cause of hearing loss in children because the Eustachian tube (the tube that connects the middle ear to the nasopharynx at the back of the throat) is not yet fully developed and is susceptible to fluid buildup. The condition itself is typically caused by ear infections and fluid buildup.

Congenital Causes

Congenital hearing loss (present at birth or shortly after birth) can be hereditary or non-hereditary.  It can also be caused by problems during pregnancy. Common causes of hearing loss that are not hereditary include: developing infections during pregnancy (e.g. syphilis, rubella), alcohol and drug use, lack of oxygen at birth (birth asphyxia), and premature birth.

Other Common Causes

Other causes of hearing loss not classified above include: chronic ear infections, head injuries or ear injury (caused by impact), and earwax buildup.

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