Common Causes of Hearing Loss
There are many possible causes of hearing loss, and different types of hearing loss have different causes.
Sensorineural is by far the most common type of hearing loss, and is the type of hearing loss that over 90% of people with hearing loss have.
Sensorineural hearing loss means there’s a problem with the inner ear (cochlea) or auditory nerve.
The most common cause of sensorineural hearing loss is the general aging process.
Conductive hearing loss is a much less common type of hearing loss, and results when something in the outer or middle ear blocks the path of sound to the inner ear.
The most common cause of conductive hearing loss is excessive ear wax.
Below, we’ll look at more detailed lists of common causes of sensorineural and conductive hearing loss.
Causes of Sensorineural Hearing Loss
There are many causes of sensorineural hearing loss, but below is a list of some of the most common causes.
- Loud sounds: Sometimes called “noise exposure,” people who work in jobs (construction, military, mining) or have hobbies (hunting, race car driving) where there are frequent loud sounds often acquire noise-induced hearing loss. You also can get hearing loss from a single loud blast from an explosion.
- Aging (presbycusis): As we get older, the chances of having a hearing loss increase. According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, almost a quarter of adults have hearing loss by age 70.
- Genetics: Your genes may make your ears more vulnerable to damage from medications or loud sounds. You also could be born with a gene mutation that leads to abnormal function of your inner ear cells and therefore congenital hearing loss. Alternatively, you may have a genetic syndrome such as Usher’s syndrome. If you have a syndrome, you’ll also have problems with other body systems such as vision or dental abnormalities.
- Medications: Some medications are ototoxic, meaning that they can damage your hearing and balance organs. The most ototoxic drugs are platinum chemotherapy drugs and aminoglycoside antibiotics.
- Diabetes: Diabetes is a systemic disease that affects the ears as well as the rest of your body.
- Cardiovascular disease: Disruptions in blood and oxygen flow to your ears can cause damage to the hearing system.
- Smoking: People who smoke or who are exposed to secondhand smoke are at greater risk of hearing loss.
- Acoustic neuroma (vestibular schwannoma): Tumors can grow on the auditory nerve, causing hearing loss as well as other symptoms like dizziness and tinnitus. Usually, this kind of hearing loss is in one ear.
- Meniere’s Disease: When there is too much fluid in the cochlea, you may have fluctuating hearing loss, tinnitus, and dizziness.
- Perilymph fistula: This is a tear in the membranes of the cochlea (inner ear), which causes fluid to leak.
- Autoimmune disease. In this disorder, the body’s immune system attacks cells in the inner ear.
- Bacterial meningitis: Meningitis is an inflammation of the tissues that surrounds your brain. The bacterial form (as opposed to the viral form) of meningitis may cause hearing loss.
- Prenatal infections: If a pregnant woman is infected with toxoplasmosis, rubella, german measles, cytomegalovirus (CMV), or herpes, the infection can lead to sensorineural hearing loss in the baby.
- Mumps and measles: These are viral infections could lead to hearing loss. The hearing loss may be profound and only affect one ear.
- Shingles: If you develope shingles on your face or head near your ear, you may experience hearing loss. This hearing loss may only be on one side.
- Birth defects: You could have a birth defect such as a Mondini malformation that alters the shape of your inner ear (cochlea).
- Prematurity, low birth weight, and jaundice: Babies that spend time in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for prematurity or health problems, have low birth weight, or have hyperbilirubinemia (jaundice) requiring treatment are at increased risk of hearing loss.
Causes of Conductive Hearing Loss
Conductive hearing loss is much less common and has fewer causes (below).
- Excessive ear wax: Many elderly people experience impacted wax because of skin changes that occur with aging, along with dental problems that prevent wax from migrating out as usual with chewing. If you use cotton swabs, you may be pushing wax further down your ears. Hearing aid users also may have difficulty with wax.
- Otitis media (ear infections): Middle ear infections cause hearing problems. Some people have chronic or frequent middle ear infections because their Eustachian tubes do not work well.
- Otosclerosis: A hereditary condition where there is abnormal growth of the middle ear bones, leading to conductive hearing loss.
- Trauma: A blow to the head, a loud blast, excessive fluid behind the eardrum, or an object in your ear canal could penetrate the eardrum and create a hole. Trauma may also cause the middle ear bones to break.
- Cholesteatoma: This is a benign tumor of the middle ear that, over time, damages the structures. Often, a cholesteatoma begins when a person has long-standing negative pressure in the ear from a poorly functioning Eustachian tube. The eardrum pulls back into the middle ear space, creating a pocket that fills with debris.
- Birth defects: Due to a birth defect, you might have a narrow or missing ear canal (atresia).
- Down Syndrome: People with Down Syndrome have an increased risk of both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss. In particular, they have a greater risk of ear infections that lead to conductive hearing loss because their Eustachian tubes are unable to do an effective job equalizing pressure in the ears.