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The 3 Most Common Causes of Hearing Loss

By WebMD Connect to Care Staff
Age, genetics, and damage to the ear are among the most common causes of hearing loss.

About one in eight Americans have hearing loss in both ears, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. But there are three types of hearing loss that are the most common. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 1.7 in 1,000 babies screened for hearing loss will have hearing issues. Genetic hearing loss is the most common cause of hearing loss in babies and children. In adults, age-related hearing loss becomes increasingly common, with 8.5% of adults aged 55 to 64 experiencing disabling hearing loss. Knowing the most common causes of hearing loss can help you seek treatment as early as possible. 

Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Hearing loss can be conductive, sensorineural, or mixed in origin,” Vanessa Rothholtz, MD, MSc, a faculty member of the Cedars Sinai Medical Center Otolaryngology Residency Programtells WebMD Connect to Care.

Sensorineuralhearing loss is the most common form of hearing loss. It happens when the inner ear, hearing nerves, or hearing structures in the brain are damaged. According to a 2017 article published in Gene Reviews, hearing loss that appears early in childhood, before a baby can speak, is sensorineural and usually genetic. 

Rothholtz says that the most common cause of sensorineural hearing loss in adults is aging. This form of hearing loss occurs in the inner ear when tiny hair cells become damaged. The cells do not regrow, so the damage is permanent. While genetics and changes in the ear related to age play a role, so too does exposure to very loud noises. 

Conductive Hearing Loss

Conductive hearing loss is hearing loss from damage to or blockages in the outer or middle ear. According to Rothholtz, the most common cause of conductive hearing loss is a buildup of earwax that muffles sound. Rothholtz adds that some other types of conductive hearing loss include: 

  • Otosclerosis: This causes bone from the cochlea to grow onto the stapes bone in the middle ear, making it more difficult to hear. 
  • Cholesteatoma: This happens when tissue grows in the ear that shouldn’t be there. Sometimes it is present at birth. It can also appear following a chronic middle ear infection or due to a hole in the eardrum. 

Mixed Hearing Loss 

Mixed hearing loss is a combination of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss. With this type of hearing loss, physical damage or a blockage in the ear makes genetic or age-related hearing damage worse. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, an example of mixed hearing loss “would be if you have a hearing loss because you work around loud noises and you have fluid in your middle ear. The two together might make your hearing worse than it would be with only one problem.”

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