Understanding the nature of your hearing loss is a critical first step in determining the appropriate course of action.
Whether it’s a sudden hearing loss or a gradual decline in your hearing ability, the impact on your quality of life can be significant. This trouble could range from difficulty hearing background noises to profound hearing loss, where even the loudest sounds are inaudible.
This post will help you understand the difference between temporary and permanent hearing loss, its causes, and when to seek a hearing professional or obtain a hearing aid.
What is Hearing Loss?
Hearing loss is characterized by a partial or total inability to perceive sound. This hearing loss can occur in one ear, known as unilateral hearing loss, or in both ears, referred to as bilateral hearing loss.
It can affect individuals across all age groups, from infants to the elderly, although it’s more prevalent in adults. The impairment is often attributed to age-related hearing loss or noise-induced hearing loss.
The severity of hearing loss can vary widely, from mild, where an individual may have trouble hearing soft sounds or background noises, to profound hearing loss, where even the loudest sounds are inaudible.
This can significantly impact an individual’s hearing ability, leading to difficulties in communication and, in some cases, developmental delays in children with hearing loss.
Types of Hearing Loss
There are three main types of hearing loss: sensorineural, conductive, and mixed.
- Sensorineural hearing loss, often called nerve-related hearing loss, is the most common type of hearing loss. This type of hearing impairment is typically caused when the nerves and hair cells in the inner ear, which play a crucial role in transmitting sound signals to the brain, are damaged or deteriorated. This damage can result from various factors such as aging, exposure to loud noises, or certain health conditions like autoimmune diseases.
- Conductive hearing loss occurs when an obstruction in the ear impedes the transmission of sound. This obstruction, which could be an infection, excessive earwax, or a foreign object such as a hair pin or cotton swab, prevents sound from effectively traveling through the outer and middle ear to the inner ear. This blockage in the ear canal, also known as the auditory canal, can lead to muffled hearing and trouble hearing, mainly when there’s background noise.
- Mixed hearing loss is a combination of both sensorineural and conductive hearing loss; It results from an outer or middle ear problem plus an inner ear problem.
Causes of Permanent Hearing Loss
A variety of factors can cause permanent hearing loss. These include:
Presbycusis, often called age-related hearing loss, is a prevalent form of sensorineural hearing loss that primarily affects adults. This type of hearing loss is typically characterized by a gradual decrease in hearing ability over an extended period, often spanning several years. The underlying cause of presbycusis is attributed to the natural wear and tear on the ears that occurs over time.
Prolonged exposure to loud noises, such as heavy machinery, loud music, or explosions, can lead to permanent hearing loss. This type of hearing impairment, known as noise-induced hearing loss, is a common type of sensorineural hearing loss.
This damage can be caused by an extended period of exposure to excessive noise, leading to irreversible damage to your hearing ability. The symptoms of hearing loss from noise exposure can range from muffled hearing to profound hearing loss, where even the loudest sounds are difficult to hear.
Genetic disorders can lead to permanent hearing loss and profoundly impact an individual’s hearing ability. These disorders, often present from birth, can cause congenital hearing loss. They may affect the intricate structures of the inner ear, including the cochlea and auditory nerve, or cause damage to the hearing nerve responsible for transmitting sound signals to the brain.
For instance, conditions like Usher, Pendred, and Waardenburg Syndrome are genetic disorders that can cause sensorineural hearing loss. These disorders can lead to a loss of hair cells in the inner ear or damage to the auditory nerve, both of which are crucial for normal hearing.
Autoimmune diseases, a category of health conditions where the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks its own tissues, can indeed lead to permanent hearing loss.
This unfortunate scenario can occur when the immune system erroneously targets the inner ear cells, a delicate structure integral to our hearing ability.
This type of hearing loss, often called autoimmune sensorineural hearing loss, can be sudden or progressive and may affect one or both ears, leading to bilateral hearing loss.
Causes of Temporary Hearing Loss
Most of the time, when the hearing loss is temporary it is also often reversible and can be caused by several factors:
Upper Respiratory Infection (URI)
Eustachian tubes play a vital role in maintaining the pressure balance in your ears. If these tubes are blocked, the balance can be disrupted, resulting in temporary hearing loss. Sometimes upper respiratory infections, such as the common cold or flu, can cause this problem.
Exposure to loud noises can cause temporary hearing loss or tinnitus (ringing in the ears). This type of hearing loss, known as noise-induced hearing loss, usually disappears once the noise has stopped and the ears have had time to recover.
A Bad Cold and Other Viral Infections
Viral infections, including but not limited to measles, mumps, or mononucleosis, can often result in temporary hearing loss, which can be quite distressing.
These infections can cause inflammation and blockages in the ear structures, particularly in the Eustachian tubes (ear tubes), which connect the middle ear to the back of the throat.
This can lead to muffled hearing or even a complete loss of hearing in some cases. Once the infection clears, hearing usually returns to normal.
Middle Ear Infections (Otitis Media)
These bacterial infections occur when bacteria or viruses infiltrate the ear, causing fluid to accumulate behind the eardrum.
This buildup of infectious material can lead to an inflammatory response, resulting in an infection.
When to See an Audiologist or an ENT Doctor
If you’re experiencing hearing loss, seeking medical attention is essential; A hearing expert can conduct a comprehensive hearing test to determine the type and extent of your hearing damage or loss. They can also provide treatment options based on the cause and severity of your hearing loss and may recommend the right hearing aid for you.
If you’re looking for a clinic in Yardley, PA, Penn Medicine Becker ENT & Allergy offers medical professionals ready to help with your auditory problems. We also serve the areas of Woodside, Newtown, Langhorne, Fairless Hills, and Fallsington. Contact us today to schedule your consultation.