On-the-Job Hearing Loss
Lots of jobs expose you to loud noises. Factories, airplane runways, and busy restaurants can all get loud, and people who work in noisy places face greater hearing loss risks. For the 22 million Americans who work in noisy environments, one survey found that nearly 1 in 3 has experienced hearing loss in one or both ears.
Noise isn't the only thing that can harm your hearing at work. More than 10 million US workers are exposed to ototoxic chemicals in the workplace. These chemicals make hearing loss more likely if you hear loud noises. Ototoxic chemicals can be a problem for people who work with solvents, certain pharmaceuticals, and some metals and compounds like lead, mercury compounds, and organic tin compounds, according to the CDC.
A Blow to the Head
A hard blow to the head can contribute to hearing loss. One way is by fracturing your temporal bone, located behind your ear near the base of your skull. This bone houses your middle and inner ear. Some people experience hearing loss without breaking their temporal bone following a traumatic injury.
There are more than 200 different drugs that contribute to either temporary or permanent hearing loss or tinnitus (ringing in the ears). These drugs are known as "ototoxins" ("oto" is Latin for "ear"). They include common pain relievers such as aspirin and ibuprofen, which can cause temporary hearing loss that resolves after you stop taking them. Some diuretics, antibiotics, and anti-cancer drugs have been implicated for causing hearing loss, too. Check with your doctor if you are concerned about a medication you are taking, as there may be an alternative drug with fewer side effects. Always continue taking medications as prescribed until consulting with your doctor.
There are many chronic diseases that have been associated with hearing loss. Many of these are common diseases. Whether a disease causes or just worsens hearing loss can be difficult to determine, and much research remains to be done to understand the connection in many cases. Here are some chronic diseases with known associations with hearing loss:
- Heart disease
- Kidney disease
- Alzheimer's disease
Sudden Hearing Loss (Sudden Deafness)
Sudden hearing loss, usually in just one ear, is often unexplained. In fact, doctors find a cause in only 1 in 10 cases. Sometimes head trauma, infection, or blood circulation issues are to blame. If you experience sudden hearing loss, visit your doctor right away. Your doctor will want to rule out various causes and may recommend steroid injections.
Tumors and Hearing Loss
Sometimes a slow-growing, benign tumor develops around the nerves that control balance and hearing. This usually causes hearing loss in only one ear. This type of tumor, caused by an overgrowth of nerve-supporting Schwann cells, goes by many names. These include "acoustic neuroma" and "vestibular schwannoma."
Sometimes an intense sound heard only once is enough to cause hearing loss. Being near fireworks or target shooting can cause this type of hearing loss if proper safety precautions are not used. These explosive sounds can both rupture your eardrums and cause damage to your middle ear bones. Use ear protection when you will be around loud, explosive sounds.
Maybe it is not as loud as an explosion, but a loud concert lasts longer. When your ears are subjected to loud sounds over long periods of time, this can cause hearing loss too.
Headphones and Earbuds
Headphones and earbuds can often be played at high volumes of about 95-110 decibels. Over time, these volumes can contribute to hearing loss. That's true of any sound over 85 decibels. Start with a lower volume, and gradually raise it until you find a comfortable level for listening. And don't forget to give your ears a break now and then.
Too Much Earwax
Sometimes the cause of hearing loss is relatively straightforward. If earwax blocks your ear canal, you may hear the hissing, buzzing, or roaring sounds caused by tinnitus. If earwax is causing hearing problems, don't try to remove it yourself. Visit your doctor, who can remove your ear wax using special tools. Your doctor may scrape earwax out using a curet, or may use suction or a warm water flush. Your doctor can also prescribe wax-removal medication.
Ear Infections & Illness
A chronic ear infection can affect your hearing. These are more common in young children, who may have difficulty responding to soft sounds if they develop an infection. Other illnesses can cause hearing problems, too, and many can be prevented with vaccines. They include:
- Measles (Rubeola)
- West Nile Virus
Hearing Loss at Birth
Sometimes people are born with hearing loss. This is true for about one in 1,000 babies born, making it the most common birth defect in developed countries. About half of these cases are caused by genetic mutations. Most of the rest are caused by viral infections.
CMV (Cytomegalovirus) is the leading non-genetic cause of hearing loss at birth. For some children born with CMV infection, hearing loss can come on years later. Children who test positive for this virus should be regularly screened for signs of hearing loss. IV antiviral treatment for CMV is available that can sometimes improve hearing. Hearing aids and cochlear implants may also be used as treatment in some cases.
Hearing loss is common as we get older. Adults between ages 65 and 74 have a 1 in 3 chance of experiencing hearing loss. And for adults over age 75, about 1 in 2 have trouble hearing. It tends to be inherited and can make it difficult to tolerate loud noises. This type of hearing loss usually affects both ears equally. Because hearing fades away gradually, a person with this type of hearing loss may not realize they have lost their hearing.
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