This condition is a decreased ability to detect and identify various sounds. The hearing loss can affect one or both ears and can be partial or total. There are basically two types of hearing loss: conductive, where sound waves are blocked from travelling through the ear; and sensorineural, where the sensory cells or nerves in the ear have been destroyed. The most common hearing loss is sensorineural and this type is permanent. Conductive hearing loss, however, is often reversible. Both types (in some cases) are preventable and can be improved with the use of hearing aids and other treatments.
Causes of Hearing Loss
There are several possible causes for hearing loss. They include:
- Aging - The leading cause of hearing loss is simply the normal aging process. This type of hearing loss is called presbycusis and is a form of sensorineural hearing loss. It is caused by the tiny, hair-like sensory cells in the inner ear having died off over time and they were not replaced.
- Loud noise - Continued exposure to loud noise over a period of several years can cause sensorineural hearing loss by damaging the hair cells in the ear. Any sounds louder than 80 decibels can potentially cause hearing loss. These sounds include sirens, jackhammers, rock concert music, lawn mowers and electric drills.
- Ear wax - These normal secretions in the ear can accumulate or get pushed too deeply into the ear canal, resulting in conductive hearing loss.
- Injuries - Traumas and accidents can damage structures in the ear causing either conductive or sensorineural hearing loss. These serious injuries can include concussions andskull fractures, or less serious events such as eardrums that are torn by cotton swabs or ruptures in the ear caused by changes in air pressure when flying. Hearing losses caused by such injuries may be temporary if the initial injury heals on its own or is surgically repaired.
- Infections - Ear infections can lead to conductive hearing loss by causing fluid buildup or swelling in the ear that obstructs sound waves. These conditions can include middle ear and external ear infections, as well as labrynthitis. The brain infection meningitis can also cause sensorineural hearing loss.
- Meniere's disease - When this condition is present, a build-up of fluid in the inner ear causes intermittent hearing loss, as well as ringing in the ears and dizziness.
- Medications - A side effect of some medications is hearing loss. High doses of aspirin, as well as the use of antibiotics and cisplatin for cancer, can cause hearing loss.
- Genetics - There are several genes that can predispose a person to having hearing loss because of the development of the ears and the functioning power of the sensory hair cells.
- Birth defects - Some babies are born with impaired hearing for several different reasons. These can include pregnancy complications, intrauterine infections and premature birth.
- Otosclerosis - This type of hearing loss is due to excessive bone growth in the inner ear. It is among the most common causes of conductive hearing loss.
- Tumors - Both malignant and benign tumors of the brain or ear can affect hearing.
- Autoimmune diseases - This type of disease, in which the immune system attacks the body, can cause hearing loss if the attack goes to the ears. Autoimmune diseases that can affect hearing include lupus and multiple sclerosis.
The best way to prevent hearing loss is to protect the ears from loud noises. When using equipment that is noisy, use earplugs or guards to help muffle the sound. Turn the volume down while listening to music. Duration determines the damage to hearing caused by high volume, and even what seems to be reasonable can be damaging if continuous. A rest period of five minutes per hour is recommended.
Have a medical examination by a health care professional who specializes in hearing disorders. Hearing tests can determine how severe the hearing loss is and which sound frequencies are most affected.
Those at Risk
People who are especially at risk for hearing loss include those over age 60, people who have long-term exposure to loud noises, those with abnormalities in the structure of the ear, people with trauma to the ears or autoimmune diseases, and individuals with genetic predispositions.
The treatment recommended depends on the type and extent of the hearing loss. Depending on the cause, the treatment goal may be to restore hearing or to introduce devices that will make it easier to hear.
Aside from hearing aids, other treatments can include:
- Surgery - There are many different surgical procedures to treat hearing loss. The simplest is to drain fluid from the middle ear (if that is the cause of the hearing loss). There are also procedures to repair structural abnormalities in the ear.
- Cochlear implants - For individuals who have sensorineural hearing loss too severe to be helped by hearing aids, devices can be implanted in the inner ear to help increase residual hearing.
- Medication - Antibiotics can be used to cure inner ear infections or to help drain fluid from the middle ear.
- Reducing ear wax - If excess ear wax is the problem, some of it can be cleared away by putting baby oil, mineral oil, hydrogen peroxide or a commercial ear wax softener into the ear with a medicine dropper. A doctor may also be consulted to aid with ear wax removal.
Natural remedies can include acupuncture and acupressure. A diet that is nourishing and strengthening for the kidneys and the blood can also be helpful. These foods include chicken liver, string beans, spinach, black sesame seed, beef, oysters, grapes and tangerines.
The Chinese herbs Chai Hu Shu Gan Wan, Shi Bai Di Huang Wan, Er Ming Zhu Hi Wan, and Long Dan Xie Gan Wan can be used to treat hearing loss. Other supplements can include superoxide dismutase, zinc and copper. Manganese and vitamins A and C can also be helpful.
- Bratman, S. (1998). The Alternative Medicine Ratings Guide: an expert panel rates the best treatments for over 80 conditions. New York: Crown Publishing Group (1998)
- Brown, L. (1999). Alternative Medicine. London : Teach Yourself
- Carmen, R. (2009). The consumer handbook on hearing loss and hearing aids : a bridge to healing. Sedona, Ariz. : Auricle Ink Publishers
- Deepak Chopra, M.D. (2002). Alternative Medicine: The Definitive Guide. Puyallup, Wash. : Future Medicine Pub.
- Duke, J. (2003). The Green Pharmacy: Herbal remedies for common diseases and conditions from the world's foremost authority on healing herbs. London : Rodale
- Servan-Schreiber, D.(2006). The Encyclopedia of New Medicine: Conventional & Alternative Medicine For All Ages. London : Rodale
Posted in Hearing LossAsk a Question Or Join a Discussion