American Speech-Language-Hearing Association

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Causes of Hearing Loss in Adults

Hearing loss in adults can either be inherited from your parents or acquired from illness, ototoxic (ear-damaging) drugs, exposure to loud noise, tumors, head injury, or the aging process. This loss may occur by itself or with tinnitus (ringing in the ears).

Some causes of hearing loss in adults are described below:

Otosclerosis is a disease involving the middle ear. It affects the movement of the tiny bones in the middle ear. Otosclerosis can cause a conductive type of hearing loss. This condition is often surgically treatable.

Ménière's disease affects the inner ear. The cause of Ménière's disease is unknown. It usually begins between the ages of 30 and 50. A person with Ménière's disease will often have a combination of sensorineural hearing loss, dizziness (vertigo), ringing in the ear (tinnitus), and sensitivity to loud sounds. This type of hearing loss is managed by a doctor and audiologist. Some people with Ménière's disease report mild symptoms, but for others the symptoms are much worse. The hearing loss comes and goes, but over time some loss becomes permanent.

Autoimmune inner ear disease. This sudden-onset hearing loss is fast, dramatic, and should be medically treated as soon as possible. With swift medical treatment, the hearing loss from this disease can be reduced.

Ototoxic medications can cause hearing loss. Some drugs known to be ototoxic are:

  • Aminoglycoside antibiotics (such as streptomycin, neomycin, or kanamycin)
  • Salicylates in large quantities (aspirin)
  • Loop diuretics (lasix or ethacrynic acid)
  • Drugs used in chemotherapy regimens (cisplatin, carboplatin, or nitrogen mustard)

Very loud noise can cause permanent hearing loss. This is called noise-induced hearing loss. Listening to loud noise for long periods of time can damage the hair cells in the inner ear. Noise-induced hearing loss usually develops gradually and painlessly. A single exposure to an extremely loud sound such as an explosion can cause a sudden loss of hearing. This is called acoustic trauma..

Acoustic neuroma is an example of a tumor that causes hearing loss. Symptoms can include hearing loss or ringing in one ear accompanied by a feeling of fullness. Treatment for acoustic neuroma is medical.

Physical head injury can lead to traumatic brain injury (TBI), skull fractures, a hole in  the eardrum, and damage to the middle ear structures, resulting in hearing loss.

Presbycusis is a sensorineural hearing loss that occurs gradually later in life. The condition affects hearing in both ears over time.  Speech begins to sound muffled or unclear because the ability to hear high pitch sounds is thefirst to go. Rhyming mistakes can occur—for example, the high-pitched sound /t/ in the word tin is heard as /f/ in the word fin, causing confusion: “The roof is made of tin” is heard as “The roof is made of fin.”

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