Hearing loss is a common side effect of the ageing process. However, it can affect people of any age. Repeated exposure to loud noise may cause a degree of permanent hearing loss. However, many people experience temporary hearing loss as a result of an ear infection (see Ear Discharge and Infections), or because of a blockage, such as the build-up of wax.
People suffering from hearing loss may experience difficulty in hearing or understanding people; confusion as to which direction sounds are coming from; an inability to hear certain noises – frequently the telephone or doorbell – and fatigue, resulting from the extra concentration required to hear things. Tinnitus is sometimes associated with hearing loss.
Friends and family often notice the hearing loss first – the television may be turned up louder than they think necessary, and they may be asked continually to repeat what they have said.
What causes hearing loss?
Sensorineural hearing loss is caused by damage to either the hair cells in the inner ear or to the auditory nerve pathways. This is frequently the result of natural wear and tear, is the type of hearing loss most commonly associated with old age. However, it can also be caused by injury or by over-exposure to loud noise.
People most at risk of developing noise-induced hearing loss are those who work with noisy equipment such as pneumatic drills; who frequently listen to loud music through headphones, or who work in environments like nightclubs, where loud music is played continuously.
Sensorineural hearing loss may also be caused by: viral infections, such as mumps, measles and rubella; Meniere's disease; meningitis; multiple sclerosis; stroke or genetic abnormalities.
Another type of hearing loss is conductive hearing loss, where sounds are unable to pass from the outer to the inner ear, usually due to a blockage. In most cases, the blockage will be due to ear wax or to a build-up of fluid in the ear – known as 'glue ear'.
However, there are many other causes of conductive hearing loss including: a perforated or collapsed ear drum; a foreign body trapped in the ear; abnormal bone growth in the middle ear (otosclerosis); other problems with the bones of hearing (the ossicles) or other malformations of the ear.
Depending on the type of hearing loss you are experiencing, there are a wide range of treatment options that can either cure the problem or help you manage the symptoms. An ENT expert such as Mr Julian Hamann will investigate the cause of your hearing loss and advise on an appropriate treatment programme.
What are the treatments for hearing loss?
Conductive hearing loss is usually temporary and can be treated relatively easily. Excess ear wax can be dissolved using ear drops, or can be removed with a syringe; and antibiotics can usually treat a bacterial infection. Perforated or collapsed ear drums may need to be corrected surgically by an ENT specialist such as Mr Julian Hamann.
Sensorineural hearing loss is usually permanent, but can be managed using a hearing aid. These can be worn externally, or can be implanted surgically.