Traditionally, hearing loss has been seen as a condition that primarily affects older individuals. And while it’s true that a certain segment of the population – those 65 and older – is more susceptible to age-related hearing loss, hearing loss affects younger people, as well. In reality, individuals of all ages are at risk for hearing loss.
The number one cause of hearing loss is excessive noise. Sounds that exceed 85 decibels are considered hazardous; continuous exposure leads to permanent damage of the hair cells of the inner ear. Even a single exposure to a very loud sound, such as a gunshot or explosion, can result in immediate, irreversible hearing damage.
The normal aging process (presbycusis) is a close second – and it starts much earlier than you might think. Changes in hearing begin at age 20, with significant hearing loss as early as 40 years of age. At age 65 and older, one in three people has some type of hearing impairment.
Many other factors can contribute to hearing loss, which is divided into two separate categories: conductive hearing loss (the result of problems in the middle and/or outer ear) and sensorineural, or nerve-related, hearing loss (associated with problems in the inner ear). Conductive hearing loss can be caused by ear infections, colds, allergies, impacted earwax, foreign objects in the ear canal, perforated eardrum, poor Eustachian tube function, and malformation of the outer ear or middle ear, including the ear canal. Causes of sensorineural hearing loss include causes of sensorineural hearing loss include head trauma, viruses or disease, malformations of the inner ear, Meniere’s disease, otosclerosis, tumors and heredity.