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What You Need to Know About Hearing Loss
The ear is an almost miraculous organ, allowing sound waves to be carefully collected and converted to electrical signals, which are then sent to the brain. Unfortunately the sheer complexity of the ear also means that a lot can go wrong. A sudden or gradual loss of hearing can be quite upsetting. A visit to the audiologist is the first port of call if you’re experiencing hearing loss. Below are some of the most likely causes.
In Younger Children
Some babies (around 1 to 3 per 1000) are born with permanent congenital hearing loss, and in half these cases, the cause is not known. If the mother contracts German measles during pregnancy, this could damage the baby’s hearing. Low birth weight and a weak immune system are also risk factors for hearing loss in newborns. Premature birth may mean the inner ear is not developed enough to ward off infection.
Up to 70% of all toddlers under the age of six years will experience middle ear infection at some point, before their immune systems are more robust. Though common, infections should be treated as soon as possible to avoid any delays in speech development.
Younger children may experience hearing loss as a symptom of bacterial meningitis, high fever, head trauma or infections such as mumps. Usually, a course of antibiotics or antivirals will clear up the infection and allow hearing to return to normal.
In Teens and Adults
Ear infection is less common in adults than children, but smokers are more at risk as hay fever and sinusitis can irritate the Eustachian tube of the ear. Between the ages of 40 and 70, tinnitus (or ringing in the ears) is quite common and can sometimes be addressed with a special device fitted into the ear.
By far the most common cause of hearing loss in adults is exposure to very loud noises. Alarms, power tools and machines, loud music, gunfire and explosions can damage or even pop the eardrum. This will heal in a few months by itself, but in some cases surgery may be required to repair the tissue.
Even if the eardrum is not ruptured, loud noises can damage the tiny sensory hair cells inside the cochlea and cause hearing loss. A general rule is that if you have to shout over a noise to be heard, or you ears are numb or sore after exposure, the noise is too loud and you’ll need to wear ear protection.
In the Elderly
“Presbycusis” is the term given to general wear and tear on the inner ear that leads to a loss of hearing over time. The cochlea in the ear first loses the ability to hear higher pitched sounds. If this becomes bothersome, a hearing device can be fitted.
In people of all ages, certain medications can also cause a temporary hearing loss. High doses of aspirin, quinine, some antibiotics, intravenous diuretics or some of the drugs used in chemotherapy can disrupt the inner ear and result in hearing loss.
Lastly, a slight hearing loss can sometimes be relieved by merely clearing the ears of built up wax. Be careful of compacting wax even further by using ear buds – rather consult a doctor to have your ears professionally and thoroughly cleaned.
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