Hearing loss can happen to anyone — not just people over 55 or rock concert enthusiasts. Anything from earwax buildup to autoimmune disorders can cause hearing loss. And it can happen at any age. Below are some of the more common causes of hearing loss.
Do you hear a sound that others can’t, such as ringing, hissing, or pulsing? It could be tinnitus. But you’re not alone — tinnitus affects more than 50 million Americans. It’s not a disease but a sign of damage to your auditory system. And it’s almost always accompanied by hearing loss. Tinnitus can be temporary or chronic, but it’s often debilitating.
There’s no cure for tinnitus, but there are ways to reduce its effects on your well-being. At-home options include reducing stress, using white noise in quiet settings, reducing alcohol and caffeine intake, and getting plenty of sleep and exercise. Treatments on the medical side include hearing aids, masking devices, tinnitus retraining therapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy.
Meniere’s disease is different from person to person, but the most common symptoms are sudden hearing loss, dizziness, imbalance, nausea, ear fullness, and tinnitus (ringing, buzzing, or pulsing in the ears). An episode can last minutes or hours. It can occur daily or only every few years. After an episode, fatigue sets in, as well as brain fog, lightheadedness, and sound sensitivity .
Why does this happen? Your inner ear is filled with a fluid called endolymph. This fluid is crucial to your hearing and balance. Meniere’s disease sets in when something affects the volume, chemical makeup, or pressure of this fluid. A hearing health professional diagnoses it by taking a detailed health history plus diagnostic testing of your hearing and balance. Treatment focuses on lifestyle changes to regulate the fluid in your inner ear (for example, limiting salt and alcohol).
Inflammation of the middle ear is also called an ear infection. The cause is usually a virus or bacteria that makes the drainage tube in your middle ear swell up. If the tube becomes swollen enough, it traps fluid and germs in your middle ear, leading to an infection. The fluid also presses against your eardrum, causing the characteristic symptoms of an ear infection: an earache, a low-grade fever, and, often, hearing loss. Treatment usually involves managing the symptoms with a warm washcloth and a pain reliever. A chronic case might require antibiotics.
It’s true — sometimes, hearing loss happens from simple earwax build up. Normally, ears are self-cleaning. They have glands that produce something called cerumen that cleans your ear canal and keeps bacteria and fungus at bay. Gravity naturally pulls excess cerumen and debris down your ear canal to your outer ear, where it can be wiped away. This cerumen/debris combination is what you know of as earwax,
Sometimes, though, your ear glands produce more earwax than usual. Earplugs, earbuds, cotton swabs, and other objects push the excess earwax deep into your ear canal. It builds up and eventually blocks your ear canal, keeping soundwaves from reaching your eardrum. That’s why it’s a good idea to get any hearing loss checked by a professional. You might need to have a professional remove impacted earwax. No hearing aid would help in that situation.
Your inner ear — a chamber made of bone and filled with fluid — is where hearing happens. It’s also where a great deal of your sense of balance is controlled. If anything happens to the fluid filling your inner ear, it could affect both your hearing and balance systems.
Also, when your brain tries to make sense of the sound information you hear, it’s using cues from your other systems — like balance — to understand where the sound is coming from. If your balance is off, your brain will have a harder time making sense of what you hear and where things are.
That’s why hearing and balance are often evaluated in the same appointment.