Hearing Loss or Deafness: Common Causes

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Have you ever felt that you may not be hearing as well as you used to? Loss of hearing can be temporary or permanent and can be caused by a variety of reasons.

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Deafness is defined as the inability of a person to perceive noise. The types can range from temporary to permanent and can even be age related.

Here is an overview of some of the most common causes of deafness.

Causes of Temporary Deafness

Some of the causes of temporary deafness include:

  • Wax – The waxy substance produced by the ear canal to protect and lubricate the tissues can block the ear canal, leading to short term conductive deafness.
  • Ear Infections - Otitis externa (infection of the outer ear) and otitis media (infection of the middle ear) are two major types of ear infections which can lead to temporary deafness as fluid and pus inhibit the proper conduction of sound.
  • Foreign Object - Any foreign body stuck inside the ear canal such as cotton, grains, small stones or even insects can temporarily cause hearing loss.
  • Excess Mucus - Common cold, flu, hay fever or other allergies can cause an excess of mucus production that may block the Eustachian tubes of the ear.
  • Drugs - Certain drugs like aminoglycosides (used for their antibacterial properties) and chloroquine (used to prevent or treat malaria) can cause temporary deafness in sensitive people.

Causes of Permanent Hearing Loss

Some of the many causes of deafness include:

  • Hereditary Disorders – At times deafness is passed on to the child by their parents and runs in families as a hereditary disorder. Mostly hereditary deafness is caused by malformations of the inner ear.
  • Genetic Disorders – Sometimes, deafness occurs due to genetic mutation. Some genetic disorders can also cause permanent hearing loss such as osteogenesis imperfecta, multiple lentigines syndrome and Trisomy 13 S.
  • Prenatal Exposure to Disease - A baby can be born deaf if he is exposed to certain diseases in utero (in womb) such as rubella (German measles), mumps and influenza. Congenital deafness can also be caused by exposure to methyl mercury and quinine.
  • Noise - Loud noises such as explosions, gun shots, firecrackers and extremely high pitched loud music can damage the delicate mechanisms inside the ear.
  • Trauma - Perforation of the eardrum, fractured skull or changes in air pressure (barotrauma) can also cause a permanent hearing loss.
  • Diseases - Meningitis, mumps, cytomegalovirus and chicken pox are known to cause deafness. A severe case of jaundice can also be the contributing factor.
  • Other Causes - Meniere’s disease and exposure to certain chemicals.

Age-Related Hearing Loss

Presbycusis or age-related hearing loss is inevitable and is one of the most common causes in old age. The hearing gradually becomes less acute as we age. This is normal and rarely leads to deafness.

Photograph by Andrea Kratzenberg, via sxc.hu