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What causes hearing loss?

Hear this – are you in denial?

Hearing loss can – and does – strike at any age. In fact, studies show that in far too many cases, hearing loss impacts some people earlier than previously thought, mostly due to chronic and prolonged exposure to environmental noise.

For children, this impacts not only hearing, but also causes impaired language development, ability to learn, and social interactions.

In most cases however, presbycusis - a gradual and progressive hearing loss that starts in midlife and continues to increase as years go by - is associated with the inevitable aging process.

What’s age got to do with it?

Whether weakened by genes, free radicals, environmental factors or other, as yet undiscovered causes; our ears are affected by the aging process in much the same way as our other organs.

We are born with a set of sensory cells that function optimally in our youth but these structures of the inner ear start to deteriorate over time, so slowly and gradually that most of us don’t notice the change in our hearing capacity until midlife or later.

It is estimated that a person with hearing loss waits anywhere from seven to ten years before seeking treatment.

Yet, unlike vision loss, which most people readily accept, part of the delay for treating hearing loss is due to a lack of understanding or denial for the underlying causes.

Sensorineural hearing loss

There are actually a few different causes of hearing loss, with the most common being sensorineural hearing loss.

Sensorineural hearing loss generally occurs when inner ear nerves are damaged and do not properly transmit sound signals to the brain.

Your inner ear contains tiny hair cells. Prolonged exposure to loud noises can cause these hair cells to wither and die off. This type of hearing loss can also occur as a result of aging, injuries, illness or side-effects to medications. 

Conductive hearing loss

Other individuals may experience hearing loss as a result of disorders with the inner and outer ear.

This type of hearing loss is called conductive hearing loss and can result from ear infections, impacted earwax, malformation of the ear structures or other issues. These factors can occur at birth or as a temporary dysfunction. 

Mixed hearing loss

Lastly, both types of hearing loss can be combined for what is called mixed hearing loss. Individuals with mixed hearing loss not only have inner or outer ear problems, but also have reduced hearing, due to aging and noise exposure. It is recommended to treat each factor separately to get the best treatment option. 

Regardless of which type of hearing loss you, or a loved one, may have, it is important to seek hearing care early to avoid communication and listening difficulties at home, at work, or in social situations.

We recommend having your hearing checked by one of our professional clinical audiologists. Audiology Medical Services have state-of-the-art clinics nationwide, so book in today by calling 1800 501 501, or see www.audiologymedicalservices.ie



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