Causes of hearing loss

A quick look at why you or a loved one could be experiencing hearing loss

Learning about the causes of hearing loss and the type of hearing loss you or a loved one could be experiencing, is the first step towards finding solutions that allow life to be lived to the fullest. Experiencing hearing loss - whatever the cause or extent - isn’t pleasant, but there is good news: thanks to modern hearing aid technology, hearing loss is a treatable condition.

Hearing loss can be categorized according to the severity and type of hearing loss, if it was present at birth or acquired later in life and if it affects one or both ears.

Hearing loss occurs when part of the ear is unable to function properly. This could be as a result of a problem or problems in the outer, middle, inner ear. If the issue lies in the outer or middle ear, we refer to the hearing loss as conductive. If the issue is in the inner ear it is called a sensorineural hearing loss. A hearing loss which involves an element of both conductive and sensorineural is called a mixed hearing loss.

Causes in the outer or the middle ear (Conductive hearing loss)

Hearing loss caused by issues in the outer ear or the middle ear is called conductive hearing loss. Most outer and middle ear problems can be treated with medication or surgery. The most common causes of hearing loss caused by the outer or middle ear are

  • Occluding earwax in the ear
  • Ear infection (e.g. otitis media)
  • Fluid behind the eardrum
  • Inflammation
  • Perforation of the eardrum
  • Otosclerosis (a stiffening of the bones in the middle ear)
  • Deformations of the ear canal
  • A foreign object in the ear canal

Causes in the inner ear (Sensorineural hearing loss)

Hearing loss caused by issues with the inner ear is called sensorineural hearing loss. Most hearing issues arise in the inner ear, when hair cells become damaged. When the hair cells are damaged, often as a result of years of loud noise exposure and aging, it can affect the transmission of signals to the auditory nerves. Usually, inner ear hearing loss cannot be corrected medically, however hearing difficulties can be improved with hearing aids. The most common causes of sensorineural hearing loss are

  • The natural aging process (presbycusis)
  • Exposure to loud noise
  • Some types of medication (ototoxic drugs)
  • Skull fractures or other head injuries
  • Genetics
  • Illnesses (e.g. Ménière’s disease, Diabetes, ...)
  • Inner ear malformations

To learn more please refer to our section on the types of hearing loss.

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