The human body is a complex system of five basic senses: sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing. When one of these goes wrong, it usually indicates a major issue. One of the most prevalent health issues people experience is hearing loss. The most common causes of hearing loss include age, loud noises, injuries, and illnesses. It’s crucial to know these risk factors to protect your ears for long-term use.
Aging is the most natural form of hearing loss. As you age, tiny hair cells inside the inner ear become damaged or die, and your inner ear structures begin to degenerate. These hairs are responsible for picking up sound waves and changing them into nerve signals, which the brain interprets as sound. These tiny hairs do not regrow, so hearing loss as a result of aging is permanent, although it can differ in severity.
Constant Exposure to Loud Noise
Ongoing occupational noise exposure will increase hearing loss. Exposure to machinery and systems operating at over 85 decibels for long periods will damage your hair cells. It may seem painless in the moment, but you’ll notice considerable changes in your hearing later. You may experience tinnitus, which is a ringing or hissing sound in your ears. Tinnitus typically only lasts for short periods of time, but occupational and recreational exposure increases the chance of chronic symptoms. Loud recreational sounds pose risks for hearing loss as well. Exposure to firearms or fireworks and constantly listening to loud music can damage your hair cells, so you should try to keep sounds between 70 and 85 decibels for safe listening. Anything higher will increase your risk of hearing loss.
Hearing loss can also occur from head injuries. A traumatic brain injury (TBI) or damage to the middle ear will affect your hearing. Falls, car accidents, physical accidents, or fights can all cause a TBI. Visit a doctor to get tested.
Ear Infections and Illnesses
Illnesses can damage the middle and inner ears or the cochlea. For instance, otosclerosis causes an abnormal bone growth of the middle ear, which prevents sounds from amplifying, while Meniere’s disease is an inner ear condition that causes tinnitus and feelings of pressure or fullness. Some more common diseases such as meningitis can also affect hearing.
Some medications have been shown to be ototoxic (damaging to the ear). Typically, these include drugs that treat cancer and heart disease. Aside from hearing loss and tinnitus, these drugs can also cause vertigo and dizziness. Discontinuing these medications may reverse side effects, but the damage can also be permanent.
Earwax buildup is a very common cause of hearing loss. Earwax protects the ear canal from dirt and bacteria, but too much of it can muffle sounds. You can use an over-the-counter removal solution or get a health care professional to remove excess earwax. Do not use a cotton-tipped swab to clear it out, as this can damage your ear canal.