Hearing Loss - Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Prevention & Treatment

Hearing Loss

Dr.B Prabhakar Reddy profile Authored by Dr.B Prabhakar Reddy on 26 Nov 2014 - 12:35.

Deafness or hearing loss is the inability of a person to hear basic sounds. Hearing loss with aging is common, especially in those who have crossed 75 years of their life. Hearing loss could be due to other reasons such as ear infections, accidents or born deaf.

However, not everyone who is older experiences complete deafness; some may experience reduced hearing ability, while others may have healthy hearing ability throughout their lives. One can get deaf, even in the early years of life.Unfortunately, sometimes hearing loss can be irreversible, but the good news is there are various ways to address this problem and lead a normal life.

Types of hearing loss:

Conductive hearing loss – It is caused due to any disease or disorder of the middle ear that may alter the ear functions. It is reversible and often requires surgery and sound therapy to correct it.

Sensorineural hearing loss –Injury to the inner ear can cause deafness too. Eg.Exposure to loud noise for a prolonged period. This type of deafness cannot be reversed.It is important to discriminate hearing loss and other auditory processing problems like "Cocktail Party Syndrome" which is a listening problem in which a person experiences discomfort in a noisy background. 

While age is one of the natural hearing loss causes, some experience, other causes could also be due to factors such as:

  • Injury to the inner ear
  • Prolonged exposure to loud noise may also damage the inner ear
  • Accumulation of the ear wax causing a blockage in the canal and thereby restricting the sound conduction
  • Abnormal growth of the bones in the internal ear
  • Tumors in the inner ear
  • Ear infections
  • Sinus and severe cold blocking eustachain tubes
  • Perforation or tearing of tympanic membrane (ear drum)
  • Genetic abnormality
  • Chronic conditions causing high fever. Ex. Meningitis
  • Certain drugs and medications. Ex. Gentamicin and other chemotherapy agents

One may not notice the hearing loss by his/ her own, most of the times people around us notice declined ability of the person to hear normal sounds. Following are the signs and symptoms that may signify the gradual hearing loss:

  • Difficulty in hearing basic sound
  • Muffled hearing
  • Problem in recognizing words in a crowd
  • Every time asking others to repeat or say loudly
  • Watch TV or listen radios on high volume more than they use to keep in the past
  • Avoid social meets and conversations

Other symptoms may include:

  • Tinnitus
  • Signs of infections like pain, itching, fluid oozing out of the ears
  • Vertigo

When to see a doctor:

Seek immediate attention and see your doctor if you have:

  • Difficulty in hearing basic sounds
  • Trouble in recognizing the words, especially when there is a background noise
  • Trouble hearing to average sounds from a TV / radio clearly.

Diagnosis of hearing loss begins with physical assessment followed by certain tests.

  • Physical examination
  • Screening of hearing ability
  • Tuning fork tests: Using metal instruments to test hearing ability.
  • Hearing test (audiometry): Testing hearing ability of sounds through earphones.

Sound ranges of different sounds to minimize the risk of hearing loss:

Safe range sounds: usual conversation, whispering, sounds produced by home appliances like washing machine, dishwasher, cooler etc.

Risk range sounds:Horns and traffic noise, rock drilling, crackers, vehicles, full volume on TV or radio.

Injury range sounds:Take off by plane or jet, ambulance siren, shotgun blast, rocket etc.

Complications:

Untreated or poorly managed hearing loss can lead to the following complications:

  • Affects quality of life
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Sinus and severe cold can aggravate complications

Fortunately, there is a solution for every type of hearing loss. Though it is not possible to reverse the hearing loss in every case, it can be managed well to live a quality life. Treatment options may include:

  • Removing accumulated earwax by experts
  • Surgery: Surgery may be performed either to correct the damage caused by an injury or to expel the fluid in case of severe infection.
  • Support devices: Hearing devices can be used to amplify the sounds for clear hearing
  • Ear implants: In case of severe hearing loss, cochlear implants can be placed. It performs the functions of damaged parts, thereby regaining the hearing ability.
  • Sound therapy: It is sort of physiotherapy of ear muscles to improve the strength of the auditory system thereby improving hearing power. 

Home remedies and lifestyle modifications:

Following lifestyle changes may help to cope up with the conditions and to maintain quality of life:

  • Avoid noisy environment
  • Use ear buds to clean ears instead of sharp instruments
  • Use ear plugs while swimming
  • Clean ears regularly
  • Use warm garlic paste tied in a muslin cloth and place on the infected ear

Diet recommendations:

Diet plays a role too in maintaining healthy ears:

  • A diet low in saturated fat and refined carbohydrates
  • Whole grains, nuts and seeds
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Ex. Cold water fish, flax seeds
  • Eat foods rich in Vitamin A and Vitamin E
  • Limit processed foods
  • Limit tea and coffee
  • Limit salt intake

Alternative treatments:

  • Consumption of natural supplements with the following are recommended- Coenzyme Q10 at 300 mg/ day, B-Complex vitamins, Magnesium, Zinc Acetyl L-carnitine, N-acetylcysteine, omega-3 fatty acid, folic acid, etc.
  • Folic acid and Omega-3 fatty acid: Delays the aging related hearing loss.
  • Vitamin A, C, E + magnesium: Protects from noise induced hearing loss.
  • Rebamipide: Prevents age related hearing loss.
  • Herbal supplements: including Ginkgo biloba, periwinkle and butcher’s broom can improve blood supply and nerve function in the ear and prevent further damage. 

Preventive measures aim to avoid noise induced hearing loss and prevent further loss or damage in case of aging related hearing loss. Following are the interventions:

  • Avoid prolonged exposure to loud sound
  • In the workplace, protect your ears using earplugs
  • Include hearing tests in routine health checkups
  • Avoid high-risk antibiotics and drugs that may damage your ears (talk to your doctor)
  • Watch for any allergies that may cause hearing loss. Ex. Herbs, fruits and vegetables or any medicine.
*Disclaimer This is not medical advice. The content is for educational purposes only. Please contact your doctor for any health care issues.