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Causes of hearing loss

Webpage published: 2011/Last reviewed: 2012

 

Causes of hearing lossOn this page you will find information about common causes of hearing loss - conductive and sensorineural, clear diagrams, personal stories and videos, and links to useful websites:

Types of hearing loss

 

There are two main types of hearing loss: conductive hearing loss (where the problem lies in the middle ear - ear drum or ossicles) and sensorineural hearing loss (where there is damage in the inner ear - cochlea or hearing nerve). 

Diagram of the ear: causes of hearing loss

Conductive hearing loss

 

A conductive hearing loss affects the passage of sound between the ear drum and the inner ear. Sound passes down the ear canal to the ear drum and through the middle ear, where the sound is transmitted across the middle ear by the three bones called the ossicles to the inner ear. 

Diagram of the middle ear: causes of hearing loss

Causes of conductive hearing loss

 

Type of Deafness 

Basic Information

Further Information/Links

Wax (cerumen) 

A build-up of wax in the outer ear may stop sound from reaching the ear drum. 

NHS Choices

Infection  

Infection and inflammation in the outer ear (otitis externa) or middle ear (otitis media). 

ENT UK

Hole in the eardrum (perforation) 

A hole in the ear drum may be caused by several things including trauma (damage), pressure, ear surgery and infection.

NHS Direct Wales

Glue ear (otitis media with effusion) 

Inflammation in the middle ear with associated fluid filling the middle ear space around the ossicles. The fluid stops the ossicles and ear drum from moving effectively and stops sound from passing easily through to the inner ear.

ENT UK

Inherited 

May be caused by a syndrome or other genetic reasons.

Raising Deaf Kids

Problem with the small bones (ossicles) in the ear (otosclerosis) 

Stiffening of the chain of small bones in the middle ear prevents sound from passing easily through to the inner ear.

Patient.co.uk

Bang on the head (trauma) 

May disrupt the small bones in the middle ear that transmit sound.

NHS Direct Wales

Ear surgery 

May damage the ear drum or small bones in the middle ear stopping sound from passing easily through to the inner ear.

Medic 8

 

Diagram of the middle ear: causes of hearing loss

Conductive hearing loss video  (courtesy of MED-EL)

 

(Don't forget to expand the screen and turn on the captions)  

Sensorineural hearing loss

 

A sensorineural hearing loss is defined as damage to the hair cells in the cochlea (this is the sensory hearing organ) or damage to the neural pathways of hearing (nerves). With this type of hearing loss it is not always possible to tell which part is damaged and is therefore often listed together as sensorineural hearing loss.

Diagram of the inner ear: causes of sensorineural hearing loss

Causes of sensorineural hearing loss

 

Type of Deafness

Basic Information

Further Information/Links

Age (presbyacusis)

Gradual deterioration in hearing commonly occurring for both ears in the high pitched sounds.   Affects 1 in 7 people above the age of 65.     

More on age-related hearing loss from this website.

National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders

Medic 8

Meniere’s disease

Episodes of a build-up of excess fluid in one part of the inner ear cause pressure that affects the hearing and balance organ. 

Typically affects one ear and causes a low pitch hearing loss which may fluctuate.  May cause tinnitus in addition to hearing loss. 

Visit our Menieres page

Menieres Society 

Deafness Research UK

Inherited

Can be attributed to many different syndromes or through other genetic causes. Causes a variety of degrees of hearing loss. 

Raising Deaf Kids

Loud noise (noise induced hearing loss)

Permanent or temporary hearing loss caused by exposure to loud noises. This may either be a sudden very loud sound or repeated exposure to high level sounds. 

Health and Safety Executive 

Deafness Research UK

Benign tumour (acoustic neuroma)

A benign tumour which compresses the hearing nerve, typically affecting high pitch hearing in one ear. Can be associated with tinnitus and imbalance.

NHS Choices

 

Infection of inner ear

May be caused by a viral or bacterial infection. Hearing loss likely to be of sudden onset and of a variety of severity. 

NHS Choices

Bang on the head (trauma)

Fracture of skull may cause damage to the cochlea or the hearing nerve.

Deafness Research UK

Ear surgery

All ear surgery carries the risk of hearing loss due to trauma to the inner ear by surgical instruments.

Deafness Research UK

Medicines that are toxic to the ear (Ototoxic medication)

Can cause temporary or permanent damage to the cochlea, typically affecting the high pitches. They may include lifesaving antibiotics and some chemotherapy drugs.

Deafness Research UK 

Infectious diseases such as meningitis

Diseases such as measles, mumps and meningitis can cause permanent hearing loss or varying degrees in the cochlea.

Deafness Research UK

Unknown causes

If all other possible causes (including the above) have been excluded. 

Deafness Research UK

 

Sensorineural hearing loss video (courtesy of MED-EL)

 

(Don't forget to expand the screen and turn on the captions)

 

 

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How I lost my hearing 

Hearing Link volunteers and members talk about losing their hearing

Meningitis

Wanda Knight says 'I had meningitis so I lost my hearing all at once. I wasn’t feeling well. I went to the hospital and they said that I had a virus. I came home. An hour later I was very bad; terrible headaches, violently sick, rang the hospital again and they said ‘painkillers, take painkillers’.

I went to sleep after taking these painkillers I thought but it wasn’t a sleep. I was in a coma and I’d got meningitis. When they managed to revive me, I was eaf in both ears. I’ve got absolutely nothing at all — no hearing at all.'  

Noise damage

John Hirst says 'I joined the First Battalion of the King’s Own Royal Regiment which was the fourth regiment in the army to have been established. I was being prepared for leading a small body of men under the conditions of warfare, because we might easily have gone to war with somebody, rather like people now being sent out to Iraq.

And it meant taking part in mock schemes and mock battles. That is unfortunately what most started off my deafness; all sorts of gunfire. From rifles to automatic anti-tank weapons which are still used and at that stage there were no ear defenders; nobody thought that any of this might cause deafness.

And I wasn’t actually, luckily, involved with any sort of major artillery, but I think there they probably would have given one some sort of ear protection.'

Hearing Link volunteers and members talk about losing their hearing

Unknown

Ann Moss says 'I just woke up one morning and my left ear was ringing and I went to the doctor because it didn’t seem to stop. He said if it didn’t stop in a week he would send me for a hearing test. So it didn’t stop and I went for a hearing test and that was the start of my hearing problems.

Well, because it was on one side they sent me for a scan but nothing showed up and they couldn’t find any reason for it so they decided just to monitor it. I was back and forward to the audiology departments over the following year. The ringing went into my right ear then and gradually it began to affect my hearing and I had to have hearing aids.

It just gradually progressed from then. My hearing seemed to get worse and I was then sent to Manchester to see various consultants but unfortunately no reason could be found and eventually I was just signed off and told unless I had some dramatic change that there wasn’t anything really they could find to improve the situation.'

Head Injury

Philip Pollard says 'When I worked I was a marine engineer working on ships at sea. I needed to inspect a bulkhead on the ship. That involved climbing down a ladder after you’d been through a manhole. I was going through the manhole. I slipped. My feet left the ladder and the back of my head hit the edge of the manhole. I remember nothing.

The next thing I remember was waking up in the ship’s hospital still fully clothed in the bed. The captain looked at me and he said “there is a helicopter coming to pick you up”. I didn’t know why it was coming. I realised something was wrong with me. This helicopter picked me up and took me ashore. I think I was in intensive care but sedated for the next 5 days.

I was close to not surviving. But I did survive. When I came to, I’m fairly sure I could hear. But the following day or the day after, that’s when I lost my hearing. In those next 2 days. Because by the time my wife arrived I couldn’t hear.'

Hearing Link volunteers and members talk about losing their hearing

Accident

Billy Falconer says 'I was on a push bike and I was heading home from my aunt’s home with my new blazer for my new school, and I was quite happy, travelling down a road, and there was an ice cream van parked on the opposite side of the road from me and a car came round, it came round a double bend and didn’t see me and passed the ice cream van and I went over the top.

That was how my accident happened. I was taken to hospital. I was given 18 stitches in my face, and it was quite a few months before I could start back at high school. That’s when the problem started to arise with my hearing.'

Menieres Disease

Gerry Leeper says 'With Ménière’s you get things which I know now are called ‘drops’ where you can be walking along and you just suddenly drop and you’re dizzy and lying on the ground and you do not know how you got there.'

I was sitting in our house with my youngest boy, he was three at the time, and I got up to walk across the room and I adjusted the television set and the next thing I knew I was lying on the floor and the room was spinning round and I was really very, very ill and sick. I was able to speak to my son and he actually ran across the road and got a neighbour.' More about Menieres disease.

 

Read more personal testimonies from our members and volunteers

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