Hearing Loss: Understanding, Causes, and Prevention

Hearing loss, also known as presbycusis, is a common condition that gradually occurs with age—more than half of the people in the United States over 75 experience some age-related hearing loss. There are three types of hearing loss: conductive, sensorineural, and mixed. While ageing and exposure to loud noises are common causes of hearing loss, other factors, such as excessive earwax, can also affect hearing. Although hearing loss is often irreversible, there are ways to improve auditory function.

Parts of the Ear: The ear consists of three primary parts: the outer ear, middle ear, and inner ear. Each section plays a distinct role in converting sound waves into signals sent to the brain.


Symptoms of hearing loss can vary but may include:

  • Muffling of speech and other sounds
  • Difficulty understanding words, particularly in noisy environments or crowds
  • Trouble hearing non-vowel sounds
  • Frequently asking others to speak louder, slower, or more clearly
  • Needing to increase the volume of the television or radio
  • Avoiding social settings
  • Sensitivity to background noise
  • Experiencing ringing in the ears (tinnitus)

When to See a Doctor

If you experience a sudden loss of hearing, especially in one ear, it is crucial to seek immediate medical attention. If you suspect hearing loss affects your daily life, consult your healthcare provider. Age-related hearing loss typically occurs gradually, making it easy to overlook initially.


It is helpful to have a basic understanding of how hearing works to understand how hearing loss occurs. Here’s how our hearing works:

The ear comprises the outer ear, middle ear, and inner ear. Sound waves pass through the outer ear and cause the eardrum to vibrate. These vibrations are then amplified by the eardrum and three small bones in the middle ear before travelling to the cochlea, a snail-shaped structure in the inner ear.

Thousands of tiny hair cells in the cochlea convert the vibrations into electrical signals, then transmitted to the brain. The brain interprets these signals as sound.

How Hearing Loss Can Occur:

Several factors can contribute to hearing loss, including:

  • Damage to the inner ear: Aging and exposure to loud noises can cause wear and tear on the cochlea’s hair cells or nerve cells, impairing their ability to transmit sound signals to the brain. This results in hearing loss, particularly for higher-pitched sounds.
  • The buildup of earwax: Over time, earwax can accumulate and block the ear canal, hindering the passage of sound waves. Removing the excess earwax can help restore hearing.
  • Ear infections or abnormal growths: Infections, tumours, or bone growths in the outer or middle ear can lead to hearing loss.
  • Ruptured eardrum: A loud noise, sudden pressure changes, insertion of foreign objects into the ear, or an infection can cause the eardrum to rupture, resulting in hearing loss.

Risk Factors

Certain factors can increase the risk of hearing loss, including:

  • Ageing: The inner ear naturally deteriorates, leading to age-related hearing loss.
  • Loud noise exposure: Prolonged exposure to loud sounds can damage the hair cells in the inner ear. This damage can occur gradually over time or from a single intense noise, such as a gunshot.
  • Heredity: Genetic factors may make individuals more susceptible to ear damage from loud noises or ageing.
  • Occupational noise exposure: Working in environments with constant loud noise, such as construction sites, factories, or farming, can lead to inner ear damage.
  • Recreational noise exposure: Engaging in activities involving explosive noises (e.g., firearms, jet engines) or prolonged exposure to loud sounds (e.g., snowmobiling, motorcycling, carpentry, loud music) can cause immediate and permanent hearing loss.
  • Certain medications: Some medications, such as gentamicin, sildenafil (Viagra), certain cancer treatments, and high doses of aspirin, pain relievers, antimalarial drugs, or loop diuretics, can damage the inner ear and potentially cause hearing loss.
  • Illnesses: Certain illnesses, including meningitis and high fever, can harm the cochlea and result in hearing loss.


Hearing loss can negatively impact the quality of life. Older adults with hearing loss often report depression and isolation due to communication difficulties. Hearing loss has also been linked to cognitive impairment and an increased risk of falls.


Taking steps to prevent hearing loss can help maintain auditory health. Consider the following preventive measures:

  • Protect your ears: Avoiding exposure to loud noises is the best way to protect your hearing. If you work in a noisy environment, use plastic earplugs or glycerin-filled earmuffs to shield your ears.
  • Regular hearing tests: If you are frequently exposed to loud noises, such as in your workplace, consider scheduling regular hearing tests. Early detection of hearing loss allows for timely intervention to prevent further deterioration.
  • Minimize risks from recreational activities: Engaging in hobbies or recreational activities that involve loud noises, such as riding snowmobiles or jet skis, hunting, using power tools, or attending rock concerts, can damage your hearing over time. Use hearing protectors and take breaks from the noise to protect your ears. Lowering the volume when listening to music is also advisable.

Remember, addressing hearing loss promptly can significantly improve your quality of life and overall well-being. By recognizing the signs that indicate you may be due for a hearing assessment and taking proactive steps, you are prioritizing your hearing health and investing in a better future.

Take the first step today and schedule a hearing assessment with a qualified professional. Your hearing is precious, and by preserving it, you can continue to engage in meaningful conversations, enjoy the sounds of life, and maintain healthy relationships for years to come.

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