There are many reasons we could lose our hearing, especially as we get older. It could be as simple as a build-up of earwax, or as fundamental as a damaged pathway to the brain.
Only one rule applies to everyone: waiting will do you no favours. Hearing loss can be extremely subtle, but the consequences of leaving it unchecked can have a huge impact on both your physical and emotional health.
If you (or a loved one) have noticed any difficulty with hearing, there are some very easy ways to begin identifying the problem – right here and now, from the comfort of your own home.
Click here to take a quick online hearing test, or read on to learn about the potential causes.
The three types of hearing loss
Blockage or outer damage
In many cases, the inner ear may be working exactly as intended – but something could be preventing sound from reaching it. If you find yourself unable to hear certain fainter noises, or if everything feels a little quieter than it should be, chances are you’re dealing with conductive hearing loss.
This term describes any case in which something is stopping sound from being properly conducted through the outer and middle ear.
Thankfully, once identified, medical assistance can often resolve (or at least help ease) the situation.
Causes of conductive hearing loss can include:
- Blockages of the ear canal by impacted earwax (cerumen) or other foreign objects
- Ear infection
- Fluid in the middle ear from a cold or the flu
- Swimmer’s Ear
- ‘Glue Ear’ (middle ear infection, often seen in children)
- Perforated eardrum, from a bad middle ear infection or an accident
- Benign tumours
- Otosclerosis – a hereditary condition where the bone grows around the tiny bones in the middle ear
- A malformation of the outer ear, ear canal or middle ear
- Partial or complete closure of the ear canal
Inner ear or neural damage
Sometimes the cause of hearing loss is a far more fundamental concern, affecting either the inner ear or the subsequent nerve pathways that send hearing information to the brain.
It can be caused by avoidable damage; it can be a symptom of an illness or injury; it can even arrive as a natural part of the ageing process.
This form of inner damage – known sensorineural hearing loss – is often permanent, making early diagnosis all the more important. At its worst, even louder noises can sound muffled or unclear.
With quick intervention, however, a hearing device can go a long way in maintaining a strong quality of life moving forward.
Potential causes include:
- Hereditary and genetic causes
- Illnesses, such as mumps, measles or meningitis
- Excessive exposure to loud noise
- Head trauma
- A malformation of the inner ear
A combination of causes
Sometimes both sensorineural and conductive hearing loss can affect hearing at the same time. For example, an outer ear infection can block hearing while the ageing process reduces the overall ability to process sound. Such cases are known as mixed hearing loss.