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Causes of Adult deafness

Hearing loss in adults may occur suddenly through trauma, illness or accident, or over time as part of the aging process or as an effect of noise exposure at work or as part of social life, with noisy environments or hobbies. The following describes some of the most common causes.

Sound not getting through to the inner ear

A build up of wax in the outer ear, an infection or “glue ear” affecting the middle ear, damage to the bones in the middle ear, or damage to the ear drum, will all prevent an individual hearing well. Please visit this Action on Hearing Loss website page for examples of causes of hearing loss and more detailed information. 

Age

Age is the most common cause of hearing loss in adult hood: most people’s hearing begins to decline from 30 onwards; by 60, more than 50% will have some degree of hearing loss, and by 80, most will have a significant hearing loss. Over time some of the hair cells in the inner ear which transform the acoustic signal into an electronic signal and pass it up the auditory nerve, may be damaged, and in the middle ear, the 3 tiny bones which transmit the incoming acoustic signal to the inner ear, or cochlea, may also cease to function effectively. Age-related deafness most often affects mainly the high frequency sounds of speech, which means that a person may appear to hear, but not be hearing speech clearly. 

Exposure to noise

Prolonged and repeated exposure to loud noise – whether at work or when listening to loud music – can damage peoples hearing, and lead to tinnitus. Loud noise causes damage to the tiny hair cells in the cochlea – the louder and longer the exposure the more damage.  It is important to protect hearing – see www.aohl.org.uk

Cotton buds

Ear wax can cause a problem as people age, and should be flushed out naturally (or can be removed by a medical professional if it’s problematic). If cotton buds are used, it can cause it to compact, putting you at risk of blockages and infections and sometimes permanent damage can occur.     

Certain medicines

There are a number of drugs for which hearing loss can be a side-effect, including certain types of antibiotics, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) and chemotherapy.

Certain amino-glycoside antibiotics, used to treat very serious and life-threatening infections, unfortunately have high links with hearing loss, which can range from mild and temporary to permanent and severe. 

Other illnesses

Sometimes, other illnesses and health conditions can lead to hearing loss. Viral infections, like mumps and measles, may affect the inner ear and auditory nerve, and hearing loss can also occur with meningitis, multiple sclerosis, osteoporosis and strokes. A tumour on the nerve of hearing can cause deafness. 

It’s believed that every year in the UK, a few thousand people will experience sudden hearing loss (classified as happening instantly or over the course of a few days), usually in one or sometimes both ears.

Sudden deafness should be treated as a medical emergency, so see a doctor immediately.