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This is one of the questions we are asked most often. If you are concerned that you are experiencing some hearing loss, you are not alone, because the hearing of over 22 million Americans has become somewhat impaired, and 10 million of them have suffered hearing loss (which is defined as being unable to hear normal conversations).

As to the possible causes of hearing loss, the most common is aging, known technically as age-related hearing loss, or presbycusis. As we get older the nerves and sensitive hair cells in the inner ear begin to break down resulting in presbycusis or age-related hearing loss. Symptoms of this type of hearing loss are experienced as being unable to distinguish the difference between consonants like T, K, S, P, and F, or not hearing high-pitched sounds like the voices of women and children. The next most common cause is noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), also called acoustic trauma, which is caused by repeated exposure to loud noises. It can happen as a result of being around loud music (such as attending or working in loud nightclubs) or working with noisy machines or equipment. These are both examples of what is called sensorineural hearing loss, and although these conditions can rarely be reversed or eliminated, they can easily be treated using hearing aids to amplify and filter the sounds you hear.

Another condition is conductive hearing loss, meaning that something is blocking the passage of sounds from the outer ear to the eardrum, and the most common cause of this is a buildup of ear wax, which can be easily treated and eliminated. This type of hearing loss may also be caused by a buildup of fluid in the middle ear, by otosclerosis (abnormal bone growth that renders the inner ear less able to transmit and understand sounds), and by the eardrum having been perforated or scarred.

Hearing loss can also occur as a result of exposure to certain medications, such as antibiotics and some drugs used to treat cancer, and as a result of infections of the middle ear or ear canal. Disease can also create hearing loss: Meniere’s disease, diabetes, heart disease, acoustic neuroma (non cancerous tumors on the bones of the middle ear), and stroke can all create conditions in the ear where hearing is damaged.

The important thing, if you are experiencing any degree of hearing loss, is to make an appointment so that we can test your hearing and determine what the cause of it may be and advise you on how to best treat it. Your hearing loss won’t go away if you ignore it or pretend that it’s not there, and in many cases it can become worse or permanent by ignoring it, so don’t put off consulting a professional hearing specialist.