If you’re experiencing hearing loss, you’re likely not the only one among your friends, family, neighbors and coworkers. Nearly two in 10 (17%) Americans experiences some form of impaired hearing. And while commercials and print advertisements are often geared toward the elderly, the reality is that there are more baby boomers (those between 45 and 64) with hearing impairments than seniors! But while your hearing may get worse as you age, getting older isn’t necessarily the cause. So what is?
What types of hearing loss are there? What causes them?
Hearing loss can be divided into two categories: conductive and sensorineural.
Conductive loss is due to a lack of sound transmission. An obstruction in the eardrum, outer ear or middle ear can keep sound vibrations from reaching the inner ear. Sometimes, the blockage can be easily fixed, as is the case with excessive earwax. Other times, the problem eventually fixes itself (punctured eardrum) or is fixed with an antibiotic (fluid buildup). In more severe cases, such as those caused by birth defects or a traumatic head injury, surgery may be helpful. In some cases, a hearing aid can significantly improve hearing.
Sensorineural loss is due to deterioration (often part of the natural aging process) or damage (usually caused by exposure to loud sounds like rock concerts, industrial equipment, lawn mowers, etc.) to the inner ear’s hair cells. According to the National Institute of Deafness and Communication Disorders, 10 million of the 31.5 million Americans with hearing loss can attribute at least part of their impairments to loud sounds. (You’ve likely heard sensorineural hearing loss referred to as “nerve deafness.”) Although it’s less frequent, sensorineural damage can also be caused by medications, radiation, chemotherapy, high fever or a traumatic head injury. Unlike conductive hearing loss, sensorineural loss cannot be corrected with surgery, but hearing aids, however, can often improve hearing significantly.
A combination of conductive and sensorineural loss is called “mixed hearing loss.”
Are there diseases that cause hearing loss?
Although not as common as age-related hearing loss (technically called “presbycusis”) and noise-induced deterioration, diseases can cause hearing loss and even deafness. Here are a few of the most documented in adults:
• Otoschlerosis: Affects bones in the middle ear; can cause conductive hearing loss
• Acoustic neuroma: Tumor that affects the acoustic nerve and can cause hearing loss
• Méniére’s disease: Affects the inner ear; can cause hearing loss, dizziness and ringing in the ears
• Rubella, mumps, measles: These diseases are now preventable with vaccines
What medications cause hearing loss?
Certain medications can damage the ear, resulting in hearing loss, ringing in the ear, or balance disorders. These drugs are considered ototoxic. There are more than 200 known ototoxic medications (prescription and over-the-counter) on the market today. These include medicines used to treat serious infections, cancer, and heart disease. Hearing and balance problems caused by these drugs can sometimes be reversed when the drug therapy is discontinued. Sometimes, however, the damage is permanent. Consider the effects of proposed medications on your hearing and balance. Your medical provider should discuss side effects of these ototoxic drugs and determine if they are the best regimen for your condition.
Ototoxic medications known to cause permanent damage include certain aminoglycoside antibiotics, such as gentamicin (family history may increase susceptibility), and cancer chemotherapy drugs, such as cisplatin and carboplatin. Anti-arythmia drugs such as Tambocor (Flecainide) are ototoxic. Drugs known to cause temporary damage include salicylate pain relievers (aspirin, used for pain relief and to treat heart conditions), quinine (to treat malaria), and loop diuretics (to treat certain heart and kidney conditions). In some instances, exposure to loud noise while taking certain drugs will increase their damaging effects. The erectile dysfunction medications Viagra, Levitra and Cialis have also been reported to cause hearing loss.
What about exposure to environmental toxins?
Much is written about environmental toxins and their effect on hearing. Environmental toxins including quinine and heavy metals, such as mercury and lead, have shown ototoxic effects on hearing. Ototoxic chemicals in products interact with mechanical stresses on the hair cells of the cochlea in different ways. For organic solvents such as Toluene, styrene or xylene, the combined exposure with noise increases the risk of hearing loss in a synergistic manner. Heavy metals, ashpyxiants, and endocrine disruptors have a variety of interactions as well. Specific toxicity limits for combined exposures are not well established. Given the potential for enhanced risk of hearing loss, the noise exposures should be kept below 85 decibels and the chemical exposures should be below the recommended exposure limits given by agencies such as OSHA, NIOSH, or ACGIH. Detoxing with a detox agent such as Zeolite may eliminate some of these toxins, particularly the heavy metals, although research is inconclusive. (Source: Wikipedia)
What other conditions are associated with hearing loss?
The following conditions may also cause or be related to hearing loss:
• Tinnitus: The technical term for ringing in the ears; not caused by an external noise or sound
• Vertigo: The technical term for dizziness
• Ear infections (otitis media)
• Hyperacusis: A condition in which the person has oversensitivity to normal sounds
• Allergies (serous otitis media): Can cause fluid to collect in the ear and Eustachian tubes
• Meningitis: An infection of the brain and spinal cord membranes
Where do I begin my search for help with hearing loss?
Whatever the cause of your hearing loss, a professional evaluation is necessary. Technology has come a long way – even since the last generation’s hearing aid. From amplified cell phones, hearing aid compatible phones, and personal listening devices to TV listening systems, T-coils, and the increasingly popular loop system, there are plenty of options to help you or your loved one hear better in any environment.
Assist 2 Hear wants to help educate the hard of hearing as to what is available to help you hear better. To learn more about your options, dial 877-338-1084;causes, conditions, disorders, hearing loss, information