ENT; Prevention

What causes hearing loss and how to prevent it

ENT; Prevention

Hearing loss is rarely reversible, but hearing can be improved for the vast majority of patients.

It’s easy to take good hearing for granted, but hearing loss is more common than many people realize. In fact, it’s the third most common physical public health issue in the U.S. after arthritis and heart disease. In many cases, hearing loss can be prevented or reduced by taking precautions to protect yourself.

While hearing loss is not fully reversible, hearing can be improved for the majority of patients if problems are detected early.

What causes hearing loss?

Age is the major cause of hearing loss, but it can happen to anyone of any age. Some of the more common health issues that can cause hearing loss include:

● Chronic and recurring ear infections: These are ear infections that don’t heal or that keep coming back. Fluid builds up within the middle ear, causing pressure on the eardrum and pain. Severe chronic and recurring ear infections are a common cause of hearing loss among children due to the thickening or scarring of membranes, although adults can get ear infections too.

● Head trauma: Head injuries that damage the cochlea – the snail-shell like structure in the inner ear – can fracture bones near or within the ear or damage the nerves connecting the inner ear to the brain, causing hearing loss.

● Stroke: When vessels that supply blood to the brain are blocked, damaged, or destroyed by a stroke, hearing loss can occur.

● Certain medications: Hearing loss caused by a medication is rare. Some antibiotics are toxic to the inner ear, and some chemotherapy treatments also can cause hearing loss. In some patients, taking aspirin or diuretics can cause hearing loss.

Sudden hearing loss: When it occurs in one ear, sudden hearing loss is a medical emergency. Time-sensitive treatments such as steroid injections have proven highly successful in restoring hearing. Seek emergency treatment right away.

How to prevent hearing loss

Some causes of hearing loss are beyond our control, but we can protect our hearing from preventable hearing loss with simple proactive actions. Here are a few tips we recommend for people of various ages:

● Babies: Use pediatric noise-reduction headphones, especially in loud venues such as sporting events.

● Young children: Set maximum volume limits on cellphones, laptops, and tablets.

● Teens and adults: Be mindful of the volume of your devices, particularly when using earbuds or headphones. Protect your hearing on the job or during leisure events, such as by wearing hearing protective devices (HPDs) while working with machinery or attending concerts, athletic events, or when using firearms.

It’s important to have your hearing checked regularly as well. Often, changes in hearing occur slowly over time. Ask your doctor what is a good baseline of hearing for you as well as any special precautions you should take to protect your hearing.

What treatments are available for hearing loss?

Hearing aids

Nearly 30 million Americans could benefit from using a hearing aid, but only about 16 percent of people age 20 to 69 with hearing loss have ever used them. For those 70 and older, fewer than 30 percent have tried hearing aids.

What steps should you take when seeking hearing aid treatment?

  1. See an audiologist, a specialist who will administer a hearing test.
  2. Obtain a medical clearance from an ear, nose, and throat doctor. This clearance is required for hearing aids, and for good reason. Specialists are trained to look for patterns and potential causes of hearing loss. We can determine if surgery or another treatment could help before you invest in a hearing aid.
  3. Make an appointment with a hearing aid consultant. Do your homework; hearing aids can be expensive and might not be fully covered by insurance. Assistance is available in Texas, and Texas law allows a 30-day trial period or refund of the full purchase price of hearing aids if they don’t work for you (less a certain dollar amount specified in the sales contract). 

Cochlear implants

Patients 6 months old and beyond with profound hearing loss might be candidates for cochlear implants. This technology features an electrode inserted into the cochlea. The electrode bypasses damaged or dysfunctional portions of the ear, sending signals through the auditory nerve to the brain. An external device sits behind the ear with a microphone, transmitter, and receiver. 

Too often we see that quality of life has been negatively impacted by hearing loss. Cognitive function and social interactions often are diminished unnecessarily. Many of us should do a better job of protecting our hearing and seeking early treatment if we suspect changes in our hearing. The technology behind hearing devices and treatments is advancing at a revolutionary pace.