When there is damage to the auditory nerves or the inner ear, hearing loss can occur. This means the signals of sound that are picked up in the ear are not able to reach the brain, meaning those suffering from it are not able to hear at full capacity.
There are two types of hearing loss - sensorineural hearing loss (caused by damage to the hair cells found in the inner ear) or conductive hearing loss, which occurs when sound waves can’t pass from the outer to inner ear.
What Causes Hearing Loss?
There are two primary causes of hearing loss, noise-induced and aging.
If you are subjected to high noise levels on a regular basis, this can result in hearing loss. This repeated exposure to loud noise can result in the hair cells inside the inner ear (cochlea) being unable to pick up sound waves. If you regularly listen to loud music through headphones or work in environments in which you’ll be subjected to loud music such as a club or concert venue, you could be at high risk of developing this type of hearing loss. You are also at risk if you work around noisy equipment without the right personal protection equipment in place, or if you have been exposed to a single loud noise (such as an explosion). Noise-induced hearing loss is preventable, so you should take all precautions possible to lessen the chances of you developing the condition.
Hearing loss can also occur as a natural part of the aging process; in fact, according to the NHS, aging is the leading cause of hearing loss. Patients around 40 years of age may start to experience mild hearing loss, which will continue to degenerate with time. By age 80, the majority of people in Britain will have significant problems with their hearing.
Causes Of Conductive Hearing Loss
Conductive hearing loss is a type of hearing loss that arises as a result of issues affecting the inner ear, middle ear, eardrum or ear canal.
This can take place as a result of birth defects or issues, such as failure of the ear canal to form correctly, or failure of the ear canal to open at birth. Some of these malformations can be corrected with surgery, or alternatively, a hearing aid can be implanted (known as an osseointegrated device) or worn to amplify sound. Aside from physical malformation, there are a number of other causes of conductive hearing loss too.
Ear infections can cause this type of hearing loss, such as otitis media, a type of infection in which the build up of fluid compromises the eardrum’s ability to move. The common cold can often result in the accumulation of fluid, which can also result in hearing loss, as can allergies. If you are subject to chronic ear infections, you may have an immense build-up of fluid that could require surgery to rectify. A perforated eardrum results in more wax being produced to protect the eardrum, which can cause hearing loss as well. Tumors in the ear will cause a blockage of sound, and will need to be surgically removed to restore hearing. Similarly, any foreign bodies in the ear will require the same treatment.
Otosclerosis is a hereditary type of conductive hearing loss, and it occurs when the stapes bone overgrows and causes a blockage of sound. It is a progressive condition, but can be corrected with surgery to remove the overgrown bone and replace it with either a prosthetic stapes or hearing aid.
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Types Of Hearing Loss
There are three primary types of hearing loss, conductive, sensorineural, and mixed.
- Conductive hearing loss occurs due to issues with the ear’s structure, such as deformation affecting the eardrum, ear canal, the middle ear, or the three little bones (malleus, incus, and stapes).
- Sensorineural hearing loss (also called SNHL) occurs when there are nerve issues affecting the inner ear.
- Mixed hearing loss is a combination of the aforementioned two types.
Types Of Sensorineural Hearing Loss
Small, sensitive hair cells located inside the cochlea (inner ear) are responsible for picking up sound waves and transmitting them to the brain.
When sensorineural hearing loss occurs, it is because either these hairs have been damaged, or the auditory nerve that transmits the sound waves has been damaged. Sensorineural hearing loss is a permanent condition, and there are a number of reasons why it can happen. For example:
- Hearing loss can occur either due to trauma or continued exposure to loud noise, or due to the natural aging process. In some cases, it can be hereditary; some individuals are born deaf, while others will progressively lose their hearing over time due to a genetic abnormality or issue affecting the makeup of the ear.
- Infections can also cause this type of hearing loss to occur, with viral infection affecting the inner ear (such as measles or mumps) or those affecting the auditory nerve (such as rubella) often causing the condition. Meningitis, an infection of membrane affecting the spinal cord and brain can also cause sensorineural hearing loss. Inflammation of the brain known as encephalitis can also result in this occurring.
- Ménière's disease is another cause, as is multiple sclerosis. However, diseases aside, accidents and traumas can also cause this kind of hearing loss. Treatments for diseases such as cancer including chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and even some antibiotics can also cause sensorineural hearing loss.
What Is Action On Hearing Loss?
Action on Hearing Loss is a non-profit organisation dedicated to helping people living with hearing loss or damage across the country.
The biggest hearing loss charity in the UK, Action on Hearing Loss helps individuals living with conditions such as varying degrees of hearing loss, and full, permanent deafness. The charity seeks to help people continue to live everyday lives with independence by removing barriers to communication that can so often occur. This means providing support and advice, raising awareness, and supporting the development of technology that can better the lives of those with hearing loss.
The charity provides information to the individuals living with and families of those suffering from hearing loss, along with online support forums and community event listings that can help with interaction. There is information on volunteering and fundraising, along with a comprehensive list of the resources that are available across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.