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What causes hearing loss?

There are three main types of hearing loss causes: Conductive, Sensorineural and Mixed.

Hearing Loss Cause #1 - Conductive Hearing Loss:

Conductive hearing loss occurs when there is a blockage in the outer or middle ear, or both. This makes it difficult for sound waves to reach the Cochlea (the part of the ear that converts sound waves into electrical signals to send to the brain). A Conductive Hearing Loss can be temporary in nature and in some cases may be treated medically or surgically. Hearing aids may also be prescribed for patients with a Conductive Hearing Loss.

Hearing Loss Cause #2 - Sensorineural Hearing Loss:

This type of hearing loss occurs when a problem is prevalent in the inner ear, or the auditory nerve. The most common condition associated with a Sensorineural Hearing Loss affects the hair cells in the ear that are responsible for picking up high-pitched sounds. This is referred to as 'Presbyacusis' or 'Age-related Hearing Loss'.

Damage to the hair cells can be a result of:

  • Excessive noise exposure
  • Meniere's Syndrome
  • Diseases such as Meningitis
  • Ototoxic drugs (drugs with side effects that affect hearing)

Since Sensorineural Loss often affects the hair cells that detect soft, high-pitched sounds, it can become difficult to hear speech clearly, especially when competing background noise is present. This type of loss is permanent, though it can usually be addressed with hearing aids.

Hearing Loss Cause #3 - Mixed Hearing Loss:

When Conductive Hearing Loss occurs in conjunction with Sensorineural Hearing Loss, it is a condition known as Mixed Hearing Loss. Mixed Hearing Loss usually responds well to hearing aids, and other treatments to address the conductive component of the hearing loss may also be sought.

MP3's / Headphones

It is a well known fact that long term exposure to loud noise can damage your hearing - sometimes so severely that it can ultimately induce deafness. Noise in the workplace is one of the leading causes of hearing impairment. Teenagers have also been warned about the dangers of loud music at Rock/Pop concerts for as long as Rock/Pop music has been around.

Today, there is a new impending danger and few people actually realize the severity of the negative impact they are causing to their hearing, by listening to music at high volume through the use of I-Pods or MP3 players – for just one hour a day! A recent study by scientists looking at emerging health risks in the US and Europe, concluded that using earphones and playing loud music every day for five years could cause permanent and irreversible hearing damage.

Workplace Noise

Today, excessive noise in the workplace still causes deafness in developing countries, or in those lacking OSHA type regulatory agencies. Western nations have stringent rules about just how much noise employees may be exposed to, in order to protect them from hearing damage.

Common regulations have set the danger level for noise at 85 decibels. Exposure to louder sound levels for prolonged periods of time is known to cause permanent hearing damage. The louder the sound, the less time required for hearing issues to arise. Being close to a loud explosion type noise for instance, may instantly damage a person’s hearing. Health and Safety experts advise that people should not be exposed to noise levels exceeding 105 decibels for longer than 2 minutes at a time.

Many conditions of hearing impairment or discomfort can be avoided by employing basic hygienic guidelines and of course, common sense.

Water damage to your ears can be avoided/alleviated by remembering a few simple rules. Try to avoid unnecessary submersion under water when bathing, showering or swimming. If you are a frequent air traveller, try to suck on a candy or cough drop during take-offs and landings to assist in opening the 'Eustachian Tube' in your ears, which may help to alleviate the ‘popping’ feeling and any associated discomfort. This might even prevent the less common perforation of the eardrum as it tries to adjust to changes in aircraft cabin pressure.

If you have had, or are currently suffering, from a head cold before flying, try taking some decongestant medication for a few days leading up to the flight as this will also help to clear and unblock the Eustachian tube.

You might also be surprised to know that ears are generally self- cleaning and do not require any assistance in removing wax. Audiologists generally frown upon the use of Q-Tips or any other device used to clean the inside of your ears. Wax should be naturally excreted from your ears, but if you feel you have a build-up of wax, see your doctor in order to have this officially diagnosed, treated and to also diagnose any underlying cause for such build-up.


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