COMMON CAUSES OF HEARING PROBLEMS: HOW TO SPOT THEM

April 17, 2019

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Often we think of hearing loss as an issue that starts in adulthood and only affects adults. While hearing loss affects the elderly the most, it is something that can affect every age and that can begin as early as birth or as an infant.

Ear infections are a common childhood ailment within the first months or years of life, because the immune system and ear canal are still developing and fluids can more easily become trapped in the ear canal causing infection. As long as ear infections are resolved quickly, there is usually no lasting damage, but if they go on for too long, or they are too frequent, sometimes hearing issues can result.

The overwhelming majority of hearing loss does occur in the elderly, however, and can get worse as we age unless we do something about it. This is why yearly hearing screenings at your doctor’s or audiologist’s office are so important. The earlier hearing loss is caught, the earlier your doctor can intervene and halt the progression.

Here are the most common types of hearing loss, how you can recognize them and what you can do about it.

Congenital Hearing Loss
As the name indicates, congenital hearing loss affects hearing from birth, and will affect the sufferer throughout his or her lifetime.

Congenital hearing loss is often passed down from other members of the family who are impacted by it, or it can happen due to complications during labor and delivery as an infant.

Other genetic syndromes can also affect hearing, including Down Syndrome, Treacher Collins, and Usher Syndromes. Sickness of the mother during pregnancy, such as herpes, rubella, toxoplasmosis, cytomegolavirus or German measles can also result in a congenital hearing defect for the child she is carrying.

Otitis Media
Otitis Media is the most common type of hearing loss and it involves inflammation of the middle ear, which can result in a gradual build-up of fluid in the ear that sometimes leads to a viral infection we call an “ear infection.”

Most ear infections occur in children under 7 years old. The child will complain of ear pain or discomfort, and babies may pull at their ears. A mild fever, irritability and crying may be other indications an ear infection is present.

Hearing loss due to otitis media is almost always temporary, as it is due to the build-up of fluid in the ear, which will usually drain as the infection is resolved.

Damaged Ear Drum
The ear drum is a very thin membrane separating the middle ear from the inner ear, and it is surprisingly easy to damage it with a very loud noise or even with a cotton swab.

Fortunately, a damaged eardrum usually heals without any intervention. The rate of healing can depend on the cleanliness and health of the ear (more moisture in the ear can cause it to heal more slowly).

In the most ideal conditions, fully healing a damaged eardrum may take several weeks.

Swimmer’s Ear
Swimmer’s ear is a build-up of water or moisture in the ear, which causes the inner ear to become irritated and swollen. Surprisingly, Swimmer’s Ear is not always caused by swimming: it can happen for any reason. Very rainy, foggy or humid weather can sometimes cause this buildup of moisture in the ear canal and lead to Swimmer’s Ear as well.

Swimmer’s Ear can also happen over time, so if you are feeling it get worse, see your doctor or audiologist to help you clear the excess moisture, because cotton swabs probably won’t work.

Glue Ear
Glue ear is a condition in which sticky, thick residue builds up in the middle section of the ear and blocks normal hearing. To the sufferer, it may feel like something has been pushed into the ear just out of reach.

Glue ear can go away on its own, but it does not always resolve itself. It can be challenging if a young child has it because babies and toddlers lack the words to express what is bothering them, so it may be difficult to diagnose.

Because it causes a temporary hearing loss, glue ear can also interfere with development during these formative years if it is not resolved or treated.

Excessive Ear Wax
While glue ear is more common among children, excessive ear wax build-up is more common among adults. Excessive ear wax will rarely lead to any other health issues, but it may require drops that help to thin out the ear wax so it can be expelled by the body.

If you frequently experience excessive ear wax, you may want to explore alternative options for cleaning your ears, such as a syringe that can remove ear wax build up.

Otitis Externa
Otitis externa is similar to otitis media as it is an infection in the outer part of the ear, instead of the middle part. Otitis externa is most often caused by exposure to a bacteria from polluted waters, like in a polluted lake or swimming hole.

Symptoms of otitis externa may include irritation, pain and itching of the outer section of the ear, and the tissue may become swollen.

Fortunately, otitis externa is easily treated: often it resolves on its own, or more severe cases can be treated with antibiotics.

Ototoxic Medications
Sometimes medications or exposure to certain chemicals can cause temporary or even permanent hearing loss. The type of medication that can affect hearing are called ototoxic medications.

Many types of medication can affect hearing loss short-term, most commonly NSAIDs such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen or aspirin. These hearing issues usually resolve when the medication is stopped. Some antibiotics can also cause permanent hearing loss, and for that reason they are only used in life-threatening situations.

Acquired Hearing Loss
And finally, the type of hearing loss we most often think of is acquired hearing loss, which can result from severe or frequent exposure to loud noises. Continually listening to very loud music or other loud noise, or even a noisy work environment can contribute to noise-induced hearing loss over time.

Other causes of acquired hearing loss are chronic untreated ear infections, meningitis, whooping cough, damaged ear drum, chicken pox, measles, mumps, and even a bad case of the flu. The good news for these types of hearing loss is that they are most often temporary and will resolve themselves with the infection.

Here at California Hearing Center we are committed to your hearing health. Call us today to set up an appointment for a hearing screening.