What causes hearing loss?
Have you ever found yourself asking people to repeat? Or perhaps you know someone who does?
It’s frustrating isn’t it?!
That dreaded phrase. “What did you say there?”
Sometimes it is a command “Say that again.”
We even get the less structured, but still understandable “Catch you say what?”
So annoying that it makes your blood boil. Missing out on conversations particularly those with people who deserve the most care such as close family. Why should they have to suffer from the hearing loss too. Some relatives we know have even lost their voices from all that yelling.
Well, it’s time that we at least learn about these hearing losses. What actually causes them? And, what can you do about it.
Nobody wants to suffer in silence.
“What causes hearing loss?”
That’s the first question we always get. Many people come to speak to us and tell us they are having trouble hearing. We then have a look inside their ears and low and behold there is a huge dollop of ear wax. There we have our cause number 1.
Cause 1: Ear Wax.
“What is ear wax and why do I get it?” I hear you say? (okay I didn’t hear you say that, but let me explain anyway)
Ear wax is a protective yellow substance that is excreted from your outer ear (also known as your ear canal).
The reason ear wax builds up is that that your ears, like any part of your body is always growing and changing. It gets rid of the old and brings in the new. And, in this case the old is skin cells and dirt inside your ear canal (see circle 2 in the photo below). Those old skin cells need a place to go and your body’s intention is to get them out. What ingenious idea did it come up with to rid itself of these? Two words. Ear. Wax.
The ear wax is excreted from your ear canal and catches and sticks to the waste that your body wants rid of. It then slowly runs down your ear canal to freedom (the bottom of your ear canal where a typical shower or bath will get rid of this).
This sounds great! Ear Wax is good now right? Well sort of…
The problem with Ear Wax.
Although the purpose of the ear wax is too remove the wastage, sometimes there is a bit of a blockage.
If I was to use an analogy, think of ear wax as the bin bags in your home. You put all of your waste in the bin bags and then they get removed. BUT, if you forget to take them out then your home gets a bit messy. Imagine you ignored taking out your bins for years – you would struggle to walk through it all!
That is exactly what some people do when it comes to cleaning their ears. When they don’t take out their bin bags (have a professional clean their ears), there is a big blockage and it makes it difficult for the sound to get through.
There we go – our first cause of hearing loss is quite simply having ears that are blocked with wax.
In order to solve this, a lot of people use ear buds. They stick them into their ears and after seeing that they get a little bit of the wax, they think it does them good. However, in fact it really just pushes the wax in deeper – not what you want.
Another method that is often used and often referred to is called syringing. You may have heard of it before as it used to be the most common method used by doctors to remove ear wax.
However, in the past few years it has been discovered that the force of the syringe can cause perforations in the ears and as a result, many doctors are now reluctant to use this type of treatment.
Fortunately though, ear wax removal treatment has evolved. The use of a video otoscope and ear wax microsuction tool can safely and gently remove this wax without the need to use excessive oil.
Cause 2: LOUD NOISES!
Ever been to a music concert where the noise feels uncomfortably loud? While you are there, it doesn’t feel that bad. All of the people around you don’t seem too bothered, so you carry on partying.
The next morning is a different story though. That ringing sensation is no coincidence.
Have a look at this guide on the right on the right and you’ll be able to see what noise levels are healthy for certain time periods.
It is quite astonishing to see that disco and rock concerts are so high up there and the advised length of time to be in those situations where it can be deemed unsafe – causing sometimes permanent damage to the tiny hair cells in your Inner Ear.
Also notice other environments such as the use of heavy machinery for long periods of time that can also cause this damage too.
If in the past you have worked in a loud factory then this may also have caused a degree of loss too.
Cause 3: Illness
As we noted earlier, loud noises can cause damage to your Inner Ear hair cells, but that isn’t the only way in which you may may suffer from additional damage.
Another case is through illness and there are a few of these that can cause significant damage which I will discuss below.
The first illness which we will go into is called Otosclerosis which affects the Middle Ear (number 4 for reference at the bottom of the page). Otosclerosis affects the ability of the Middle Ear bones to conduct sound from your Outer Ear and is most often treated through surgery.
This is a rare disorder that affects the Inner Ear with symptoms that may include vertigo, tinnitus, hearing loss and a feeling of pressure inside the ear.
The disease often goes through various stages with sudden and unpredictable attacks of vertigo, nausea, vomiting and dizziness. It is not uncommon to feel a loss of balance before or after these attacks happen. Permanent hearing loss and tinnitus may also develop as a result of these attacks.
At later stages, these episodes of vertigo may tend to occur less frequently, however the tinnitus and hearing loss often become worse.
Although the cause of ménière’s disease is unknown, it is thought that it is related to a problem with pressure deep inside the ear.
Possible options for treating ménière’s include:
- Medicines to stabilise the attacks
- Changes to your diet
- Balance training
- Relaxing treatments
Although the intention with some types of medicine is to provide you with an overall benefit to your health such as to rid your system of certain toxins, they can also have a detrimental impact upon other areas of your body such as your ears. The following medicines are examples of such medicines:
- Aminoglycoside antibiotics
- Salicylates in large quantities (aspirin)
- Loop diuretics
- Drugs used in chemotherapy regimens (cisplatin, carboplatin, or nitrogen mustard)
Cause 4: Head Trauma
There are a variety of incidents that can cause hearing loss. The most typical of which is a perforation in the eardrum which we discussed earlier can be caused by such treatments as syringing.
Cause 5: Aging
The most common form of hearing loss (and one that affects everyone over a given period of time) is aging.
The fact is that as you grow older, all of your cells in your body won’t rejuvenate and repair as readily as they used to which is completely natural.
I like to relate hearing health in aging to going to the gym.
When you are in your 20s and 30s, your body feels it easiest to get into peak physical condition. It can repair muscles, take more strain and get back to a comfortable, healthy level even through periods of inactivity.
However, as you get older your body finds is less able to repair and when it hasn’t exercised certain muscles in a long time, they will grow weaker – your ears are very similar to this!
A John Hopkins study found that without giving your ears the practice they need, that ears that have a slight loss will tend to fall down much further if they are not given the exercise required.
The Moral of the Story
We recommend a hearing consultation and check at least once per year to monitor where you are at so that you do not unknowingly lose out on the sounds you need to keep you hearing at your best.
A lot of people go to their optician every year or sometimes more often to monitor and maintain their eyesight, but they forget the importance of monitoring their hearing – a sense that you use just as much as your eyes and often more to communicate with others.
From my perspective, communication is one of the most important things that you can do in life. Many people talk, but few really LISTEN to others and when you don’t listen, you can’t interpret the tones that other people use when talking to you and therefore miss out on a huge amount of what they are actually saying.
I can’t stress this enough, but getting an annual consultation and hearing check is so positive.
Reference point of your ear’s anatomy