Deafness (Hearing Loss)

What is Deafness?

Deafness involves hearing loss of a significant amount, from partial to complete loss. Some forms of deafness are temporarily or reversible, while others are congenital or permanent.

Causes

  • Treatment with one of dozens medications, including chemotherapy
  • Serious fungal or bacterial ear infections
  • Diseases like meningitis and chicken pox
  • Regular exposure to noises above 85 decibels
  • Acute trauma to the head or ears
  • Eardrum sensitivity loss with age

Permanent hearing loss tends to come from damage to the nerves that translate ear drum vibrations into sound, while most of the reversible conditions arise from damage to the ear drum itself.

What are the Symptoms of Deafness?

Deafness varies in nature from hardness of hearing to complete loss of hearing. The loss may be intermittent or constant, depending on the cause. For example, a wax blockage that shifts around throughout the day could cause your hearing ability to change hourly.

Deafness Causes

Deafness or hearing loss has several different causes. Damage to the inner ear is the most common cause of hearing loss.

Ageing or exposure to loud noises can cause wear and tear on the nerve cells and hairs in the cochlea. Ear infections, abnormal bone growth, and tumors can also all contribute to hearing loss. They can either block the channels in the ear or apply pressure to other parts of the inner ear, causing them to not function properly.

Ruptured eardrums can also lead to deafness and hearing loss. The eardrum is vibrated by sounds and these signals are sent to the brain which interprets them, allowing you to hear. If the eardrum is ruptured it will not function properly. This is generally caused by loud blasts of noise, infection, or poking an object through it.

Malformation of any of the parts of the ear can also impact hearing.

How is Deafness Treated?

An eardrum that is ruptured or torn due to infection or injury can be surgically repaired, while treating infections and diseases can restore part or all of your hearing. Most people born with deafness can’t have the problem corrected with medication and surgery, but congenital malformations of the inner ear bones and canal are responsive to surgical treatment.

Using corticosteroids on an ear drum damaged by noise exposure or infection often restores it sensitivity to sound. Tumors and blockages are removed surgically as well. For people who can’t have the cause of their deafness reversed, treatments are still available in the form of cochlear implants and hearing aids. Many people find the best restoration of hearing ability by combining medical treatments and assistive technology.

Deafness Prevention

There are many ways to help prevent deafness and hearing loss.

To help ensure earwax does not build up in the ear, causing issues, when in the shower tilt your head to the side and allow your ear to fill with water. This will help loosen wax and allow it to flow properly. If there is a significant buildup you can lie on your side and fill your ear with olive or vegetable oil for several minutes before draining. This will greatly loosen the wax and can allow a blockage to clear after just a few treatments.

The other major cause of hearing loss is noise. Either very loud sudden noise or prolonged noise can cause hearing damage. If you’re going to be in a loud environment consistently, it’s a good idea to wear earplugs or earmuffs, even if you don’t necessarily feel like you need them.

Some common activities that a person should wear earplugs doing are cutting the grass, using power tools, going to concerts, or riding ATVs or boats. Many work environments such as factories also produce potentially dangerous levels of noise. Also, be careful when using headphones and earphones, as it can be very easy to listen to music and videos too loudly.

Resources
Last Reviewed:
September 13, 2016
Last Updated:
December 12, 2017