Senior woman attending group therapy

The auditory system (outer, middle and inner ear) is the sensory system for hearing. And like any other sensory system in the body (vision, touch, smell) it is likely to change how well it works over time. There are any number of reasons why your auditory system may not work as well tomorrow as it does today.

AGE

Age is the biggest single cause of hearing loss. Age-related hearing loss, or presbycusis, is the slow loss of hearing that occurs as people get older. Most people begin to lose a small amount of their hearing beginning as early as age 30. This type of hearing loss will typically worsen with each passing year. About 30-35 percent of adults between the ages of 65 and 75 have a hearing loss. It is also estimated that 40- 50 percent of people age 75 and older have a hearing loss.

NOISE INDUCED HEARING LOSS

Another common cause of hearing loss is damage to the ear due to exposure to loud noises over time. This is known as a noise-induced hearing loss. Damage from noise doesn’t necessarily just occur over a long period of time. It is also possible to incur hearing loss suddenly due to an exceptionally loud noise, such as an explosion.

GENETIC HEARING LOSS

Hearing loss can be inherited. Around 75–80% of all cases are inherited by recessive genes. Sometimes the loss is apparent at birth and sometimes not until much later. Here is a list of the more common syndromic forms of hearing loss.

  • Waardenburg Syndrome
  • Treacher Collins Syndrome
  • Branchio-oto-renal Syndrome
  • Usher Syndrome
  • Hervell and Lange-Nielsen Syndrome
  • Pendred Syndrome

ILLNESS OR DISEASE

There are many illnesses and or disease processes that can cause hearing loss including:

  • Measles
  • Meningitis
  • Autoimmune Diseases
  • Mumps
  • Syphilis
  • Meniere’s Disease
  • Acoustic Neuroma
  • Encephalitis
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Stroke

MEDICATIONS

There are over 200 pharmaceuticals known to adversely affect the human auditory system. Here are a few of the more common culprits.

  • Chemotherapy drugs (cisplatin and carboplatin to name just two)
  • Antibiotics particularly aminoglycosides like gentamicin
  • Loop Diuretics (fureosemide commonly known as Lasix is one example)

REVERSIBLE CAUSES OF HEARING LOSS

Not all problems with the auditory system are permanent. Here is a list of a few causes of hearing loss that can in fact be treated.

  • Excessive amounts of ear wax (cerumen) in the outer ear canal
  • A build-up of fluid in the middle ear that may or may not result in an infection in the middle ear
  • A perforated eardrum – where the eardrum is torn or has a hole in it
  • Otosclerosis – an abnormal growth of bone in the middle ear which causes one of the bones in the middle ear to be less mobile and less effective at transmitting sound

The auditory system is complex.  It’s possible that changes in your ability to hear are occurring for a combination of reasons listed above and not one single cause.