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4 Risk Factors for Hearing Loss You Should Know

By WebMD Connect to Care Staff
Medically Reviewed by Jordan Glicksman, MD, FRCSC, MPH on April 26, 2021
Understanding the risk factors for hearing loss may help you preserve your hearing. This article offers insights about common hearing loss causes.

Hearing loss has several risk factors and can range in severity from mild to serious. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), about 15% of American adults report some level of hearing loss.

“It’s important to understand which risk factors associated with hearing loss are avoidable and which ones are simply unavoidable,” Shannon Basham, AuD, senior director of audiology and education at Phonak USA, tells WebMD Connect to Care. “While genetics may play a role in how susceptible to hearing loss one is, hearing loss due to excessive noise exposure is largely preventable with proper hearing protection. Meanwhile, age-related hearing loss, certain illnesses, and some conductive forms of hearing loss due to congenital abnormalities are obviously not avoidable.”

Aging

Age-related hearing loss (also called presbycusis) occurs naturally as you age and is linked to several causes, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. These causes can include noise exposure, health conditions, certain medications, and genetic factors.

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, the most common symptom of age-related hearing loss is losing your ability to hear high-frequency sounds. Another common warning sign of hearing loss associated with old age, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, is struggling to hear in places with background noise, like restaurants and large gatherings. You may find yourself asking others to repeat what they’ve said or feel like they sound muffled when speaking.

Exposure to Loud Noises

Being exposed to loud noises can damage the sensory hair cells in your ear, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As these hair cells become damaged, you slowly lose your ability to hear. While it’s possible to experience hearing loss after exposure to just one loud noise, like an explosion, repeated exposure to loud sounds is more likely to cause hearing loss.

Listening to loud music through headphones is a common cause of hearing loss, according to the CDC.

Noise induced hearing loss (NIHL) is one of the only preventable types of hearing loss,” Sarah Lundstrom, AuD, tells WebMD Connect to Care. “Tinnitus (ringing in the ears) is commonly associated with noise related hearing loss and can be an early warning sign. Wearing hearing protection is critical to protecting your hearing in noisy environments.”

Medical Conditions

“There is also a growing list of medical conditions that are associated with hearing loss,” Basham says. 

According to the National Institute on Aging, some of the most common medical conditions linked to hearing loss include the following:

  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Stroke
  • Brain injury
  • Some bacteria and viruses
  • Tumors

“Current research suggests the relationship between hearing loss and these conditions is one of correlation rather than causation (i.e., they often exist together, but one does not necessarily cause the other),” Basham says. “Ongoing studies are exploring whether hearing aids can stave off or, in some cases, improve these conditions,” Basham adds. 

Medications

Some medications can cause problems with hearing or balance, either temporarily or permanently. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing association, these are referred to as ototoxic medications. These drugs are obtained both over the counter and with prescriptions. Some of the most common ototoxic medications include the following:

  • A certain class of antibiotics called aminoglycoside antibiotics
  • Chemotherapy drugs
  • Salicylate pain relievers, such as aspirin
  • Loop diuretics used to treat certain heart and kidney conditions

Hearing Loss Can be Managed and Treated.

The earlier you address the symptoms of hearing loss, the more likely you are to avoid irreversible damage. Get the answers you need to start treatment today.