One the most common questions I get asked is, “What caused my hearing loss?” The answer to this question is not always easy. There are two main types of hearing loss: sensorineural and conductive. Conductive hearing loss happens when the bones in the middle ear can no longer transmit sound waves to the healthy cochlea and hearing hair cells. Most of the hard-of-hearing population, on the other hand, suffer from sensorineural hearing loss, which is caused by damage to the delicate hearing hair cells located in the cochlea. For this post, we will focus on sensorineural hearing loss since that is the most common form.
After our late 30s and early 40s, about half the population has already developed some form of hearing loss. Just getting older causes many of our senses to fade. The other most common ailment at this age is the need for reading glasses. Aging is inevitable, and for approximately half the population at this age, the eyes and ears begin to fade. That being said, here are two other causes of hearing loss.
The second most common causes of hearing loss are loud noise and prolonged noise exposure. Noise levels that measure above 80 decibels for a period of four hours or longer are extremely traumatic for our ears and will result in hearing loss. For reference, 80 decibels is as loud as a lawnmower. At this level, hearing protection must be worn.
For sounds at levels of 100 decibels or higher, like a rock concert, our ears will start to ring after about ten minutes. Once our ears start to ring, damage has already occurred to our core organ of hearing, the cochlea, and we should step away and take a break. Finally, a gun shot from a .22 caliber rifle or pistol is measured at 134 decibels and can even be as loud as 140 decibels. Hearing sounds this loud will cause immediate damage.
Your best bet is to use proper hearing protection around these loud noises. Even listening to your mp3 player’s headphones loudly while at the gym or working as a mechanic may cause significant damage to your hearing.
The next cause of hearing loss stems from our overall health, as many over-the-counter meds (e.g., aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, Pepto-Bismol and Maalox can be ototoxic or “poisonous” to the microscopic hair cells in our cochlea.
One health issue that has a direct link to hearing loss and many other health issues is diabetes. Diabetes effects more than our blood sugar — all of our senses and limbs are at risk. Diabetes is extremely vicious, and there are several documented cases linking it to hearing loss. With all medications, it’s important to ask your pharmacist about ototoxicity in your prescription regimen for conditions requiring long-term prescription treatment, such as cancer and strokes. It’s important to talk to your doctor and begin dialogue on your medications to make sure none of them are ototoxic.
These three causes of hearing loss are only some of the most common. The best plan of action to combat hearing loss is to talk to a hearing healthcare professional as soon as possible. If you are over the age of 50, you should get a hearing test as often as you have an eye exam (every three years). The sooner you acknowledge your hearing loss, the easier it may be to find treatment.