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4 Top Causes of Hearing Loss

a man holding his hand to his ear

While there will always be an element of subjectivity involved in every individual case of hearing loss, generally, there are four particular causes of the condition. 

Before discussing these causes in more depth, it is first important to outline the three types of hearing loss people can experience, as each type of hearing loss has different causes. These are: 

  • Sensorineural: The root cause of a person’s hearing loss is found in the inner ear or the vestibulocochlear nerve
  • Conductive: The root cause of a person’s hearing loss is an obstruction in the ear that prevents sound from reaching the cochlear 
  • Mixed: When a person presents with both sensorineural and conductive hearing loss at the same time 

For the purposes of this piece, we will look at the top causes for sensorineural and conductive hearing loss – keeping in mind that both conditions, and their causes, can be experienced by the same individual. 

Causes of sensorineural hearing loss

Age 

Hair cells in the inner ear degrade, and eventually die completely, due to the aging process. As more hair cells are lost, hearing loss can develop. Those over the age of 60 have the highest rates of hearing loss, and the older a person becomes, the more prevalent the condition becomes; it is estimated that nearly 50% of people over the age of 75 have at least some degree of hearing loss. 

Noise exposure 

Age is not the only reason that hair cells can be lost; exposure to loud noise can have the same effect. Any noise over 85 decibels has the potential to harm hearing, with the risk increasing the louder the decibel level becomes. Many people are exposed to loud sounds on a regular basis; people who work on construction sites or near machinery, will often be exposed to 85 decibels or more every day. In addition, attending concerts, orchestral performances and even sports events can mean significant exposure to harmful levels of noise. Hearing protection, such as earplugs, can help to mitigate the potential damage of such noise exposure.

Causes of conductive hearing loss 

Earwax buildup 

Earwax is an essential substance that plays a very important role in the health of the ears, but for some, it can build up and accumulate in the ear canal. When this happens, it blocks sound waves from passing through to the inner ear – resulting in hearing loss. When the blockage is removed, hearing function is usually restored. 

Fluid in the middle ear 

Fluid can accumulate in the ear and prevent sound waves from reaching the ear as they should. Most often, fluid accumulates due to a viral or bacterial infection. Treating the underlying infection will usually reduce the fluid and restore hearing, but surgical procedures can also be considered if the fluid persists for several months.