As you get older, the risk of hearing loss increases. By ages 65 to 75, 1 in 3 Americans have some level of hearing loss, according to the Mayo Clinic. Past age 75, the rate increases to 1 in 2.
Some of the causes for conductive (affecting the outer ear canal or middle ear canal and its small hearing-related bones), sensorineural (affecting nerves in the inner ear) and mixed hearing losses are common. Examples include aging, perforated eardrums and benign tumors. But you may be unfamiliar with other hearing loss causes, including:
Fluid buildup in the middle ear from a cold. “When you get a cold or ear infection, you can get fluid in the middle ear,” Boston otolaryngologist Jordan Glicksman, MD, tells WebMD Connect to Care. “That fluid puts more resistance on the bones that conduct hearing than air does. Once the fluid goes away, the hearing loss should reverse.”
Allergies. “Allergies often trigger that clear fluid buildup in the middle ear or inflamed auditory (eustachian) tube,” audiologist Shannon Basham, senior director of audiology and education for Aurora, Ill.-based Phonak, tells WebMD Connect to Care. This type of hearing loss should pass when the allergy subsides and the fluid drains.
Impacted ear wax. Excess buildup of wax and shedded skin cells in the ear canal can act like an earplug, with mild to severe impact on your hearing until it is cleared.
Otosclerosis.This disease results in abnormal bone growth in the middle ear that keeps the bones there from properly vibrating, Basham says. Glicksman says it usually is treated with either a hearing aid or surgery.
Reactions to certain medications.Depending on the dosage, conductive or sensorineural hearing loss is a known side effect of certain drugs for some people, Basham says. These drugs include sildenafil for erectile dysfunction, some pain relievers, and certain chemotherapy and anti-malarial drugs.
Exposure to recreational or occupational noises. Prolonged exposure to these noises can lead to permanent ear damage, Glicksman says. The EPA’s safe noise level is 70 decibels, while OSHA guidelines kick in when workplace noise exceeds 85 decibels for eight hours. Even a brief blast of noise over 120 decibels (e.g., an ambulance siren) can trigger reversible or permanent hearing loss, Glicksman says.
Head trauma. “A hard blow to the head can break the hearing bones and lead to a conductive hearing loss, or cause a leak in inner ear fluid leading to sensorineural hearing loss,” Basham says. The latter is often accompanied by vertigo, she says.
Viral infections or diseases. Common viruses, including meningitis, rubella, measles and mumps, are associated with temporary or permanent sensorineural hearing loss, Basham says. The same goes for the common cytomegalovirus (CMV), herpes and West Nile viruses, Glicksman says.
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