About Hearing Loss
Hearing loss can affect anyone at any age – from infancy to advanced adulthood. In fact, 3 of every 1,000 babies born today have some form of hearing deficiency. Hearing loss may be congenital (occurring from birth) or acquired (occurring at any point in life).
The human auditory system’s primary function is to detect sound, and if compromised some form of hearing loss is inevitable. Sound is detected as a function of the cochlea. High frequency sounds are detected at the base (entry) of the cochlea, mid-frequency sounds in the middle, while low frequency sounds are detected towards the end.
Damage to the cochlea often leads to hearing loss. Other types of auditory damage can result in tinnitus (ringing in the ears), a symptom that often accompanies a loss of hearing. The most common cause of tinnitus is excessive exposure to loud noise; however, aging and a number of infections may also cause this problem. Auditory damage can affect a person’s sense of balance and positioning, given that the anatomy of the inner ear is essential not only for maintaining hearing, but equilibrium as well.
Common types of auditory damage include infections or accidental damage to the inner ear and/or brain stem, and cortex. Such damage can be caused by foreign objects that may have been placed in the middle ear, or a blow to the head which can cause a perforation of the ear drum and/or a fracture of the temporal bones. Auditory damage can also be caused by the effect of certain drugs which are toxic to the auditory and/or vestibular hair cells.
The most effective means of preventing auditory damage is to avoid exposure to loud noises, wear ear protection, refrain from inserting objects into your ears, and by immediately treating any ear infections.
Acquired Hearing Loss
Acquired hearing loss can result from a disease, medical condition, or an injury. However, in most cases it is age related. Some causal conditions, especially in children, include ear infections (otitis media), ototoxic drugs, meningitis (infection of the fluid around the brain), measles, encephalitis, rubella (chicken pox), influenza, mumps, head injury, and excessive exposure to noise. In adults, acquired hearing loss is usually attributed to environmental factors such as excessive noise exposure. Some types of acquired hearing loss dissipate over time, while others need to be treated with medication or surgery. Some forms of permanent hearing loss will require a hearing instrument.