Facts, Prevention & Resources

Hearing loss

Alison’s Hope for Hearing is an organization formed to continue  Alison Berry’s passion and love for helping those with hearing impairments.  We are dedicated to preventing hearing loss through our education efforts and to providing quality hearing aid devices  and services to those who are unable to attain them for various reasons.  All our efforts are made possible through support and donations by people like you.  By joining our cause and educating yourself about hearing loss prevention you are helping us to help others. Thank you and please read on for more information!

Causes of Hearing Loss

Approximately 17% of adults in the United States have some form of hearing loss. Although damage to hearing is commonly caused by exposure to noise, hearing deficits can actually have a wide variety of causes, many of which are preventable, or at the very least can be mitigated. Hearing loss sometimes just results in a reduction in hearing capacity or the ability to hear certain frequencies, but it may also be accompanied by tinnitus, a permanent ringing in the ears.

An understanding of the causes of hearing loss can equip people to take preventative measures, such as wearing ear plugs or other hearing protection, and ensuring hearing protection for their children.

 

Age

Our hearing abilities change constantly as we age. Children are able to hear at significantly higher pitches than adults, and most people begin to lose some of their hearing when they are between 30 and 40 years old. As we age, the sensitive hair cells in the inner ear die or become damaged, resulting in greater difficulty in hearing high-pitched sounds such as children’s voices. It can also make it more difficult to hear consonants, which can affect the ability to understand speech. Most people develop a significant degree of hearing loss by the age of 80.

Noise Exposure

Over time, exposure to loud noise creates cumulative damage to the ear, leading to long-term hearing loss. Common sources of cumulative damage include exposure to loud music (including car stereos), guns, power tools and gardening tools such as electric sanders and lawnmowers, crowds, and even children’s toys. People living near freeways, railways or airports may also experience loud noise from cars, trains and aeroplanes, while people working in certain industries may be at risk of cumulative damage from equipment that they work with. According to the CDC, approximately 5.2 million children and adolescents between the ages of 6 and 19 (12.5%) and an estimated 26 million adults aged 20-69 (17%) have permanent hearing loss due to excessive noise exposure.

Genetic Conditions

In some cases, hearing loss can be caused by genetics. Around 30% of inherited hearing loss is coupled with other medical conditions, while the remaining 70% of hereditary hearing loss has no other associated conditions.

Drugs and Chemical Exposure

Various substances, known as ototoxic chemicals, can cause damage to the ears. In some cases, these substances are medications, used to treat a variety of conditions from cancer to heart disease, and can result in tinnitus, balance problems, or hearing loss. There are more than 200 different ototoxic medications, including chemotherapy drugs, certain kinds of antibiotics, loop diuretics (used to treat heart and kidney conditions), and large quantities of aspirin. Sometimes, the damage can be reversible.

In other cases, the ototoxic chemicals are not medications, such as heavy metals, solvents, or pesticides, or may in some cases be abused painkillers such as Vicodin or anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen. Addiction to painkillers such as Vicodin can result in withdrawal when use of the drug is stopped, meaning that it is vital for people struggling with substance misuse to seek help when ending usage.

Illness

A huge variety of illnesses may result in hearing damage. Measles, one of the most commonly mentioned culprits, is capable of causing damage to the auditory nerve, while meningitis may also damage the auditory nerve, or the cochlea. Mumps can cause total or near-total hearing loss in one or both ears.

Certain congenital hearing loss conditions may also be caused by illness, rather than genetics. For instance, chlamydia can be passed to newborns at birth, and can cause hearing loss, while syphilis may be transmitted to fetuses during pregnancy, causing deafness in approximately 33% of affected children. Infants born to alcoholic mothers may suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome, which causes hearing loss in nearly two-thirds of affected children. Children born prematurely may also have hearing loss.

Autoimmune disease has only recently been recognized as a potential cause for cochlear damage. Although probably rare, it is possible for autoimmune processes to target the cochlea specifically, without symptoms affecting other organs. Wegener’s granulomatosis is one of the autoimmune conditions that may precipitate hearing loss.

Other diseases, including brain tumors, HIV/AIDS and diseases affecting the inner ear, can also lead to progressive hearing loss.

Trauma or Injury

Trauma that results in hearing loss can result in one of two ways: it can damage the ear itself, or it can damage the parts of the brain that process the auditory information sent by the ears. The former can occur from a single exposure to an extremely loud noise, such as an explosion, that causes damage to the hair cells that transmit auditory information. Currently, there is no treatment available to repair damaged hair cells. The latter type of damage occurs as a result of head injuries, and may result in difficulty with certain types of sounds or certain types of information about sound, such as whether the sound is moving or where it is coming from. Both types of injury may also result in permanent tinnitus.

-Contributed by reader, Jenni Langdon

References

Hearing Protection.” UltimateEar.com

Hearing Facts.” EarMuffsForKids.com

Robinson, D. W., and G. J. Sutton. “Age effect in hearing—a comparative analysis of published threshold data.” Audiology 18, no. 4 (1979): 320-334.

Noise-Induced Hearing Loss: Promoting Hearing Health Among Youth“. CDC Healthy Youth!. CDC. 2009-07-01.

Rehm, Heidi. “The Genetics of Deafness; A Guide for Patients and Families“. Harvard Medical School Center For Hereditary Deafness. Harvard Medical School.

Barbara Cone, Patricia Dorn, Dawn Konrad-Martin, Jennifer Lister, Candice Ortiz, and Kim Schairer. “Ototoxic Medications (Medication Effects)”. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

Friedman, Rick A., John W. House, William M. Luxford, Stuart Gherini, and Dawna Mills. “Profound hearing loss associated with hydrocodone/acetaminophen abuse.” Otology & Neurotology 21, no. 2 (2000): 188-191.

Sharon G. Curhan. “Pain Relievers and the Risk of Hearing Loss.” DoctorOz.com

Tang Ho, M. D. “Hydrocodone use and sensorineural hearing loss.” Pain Physician 10 (2007): 467-472.

Withdrawal Resources.” Withdrawal

Davidson, J., M. L. Hyde, and P. W. Alberti. “Epidemiologic patterns in childhood hearing loss: a review.” International journal of pediatric otorhinolaryngology 17, no. 3 (1989): 239-266.

Clarke, Stephanie, Anne Bellmann, Reto A. Meuli, Gil Assal, and Andreas J. Steck. “Auditory agnosia and auditory spatial deficits following left hemispheric lesions: evidence for distinct processing pathways.” Neuropsychologia 38, no. 6 (2000): 797-807.

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Hearing Loss Prevention

Approximately 26 million American adults age 20 to 69 have experienced permanent damage from  Noise Induced Hearing Loss  (NIDCD) and another 30 million Americans are currently at risk. Needless, to say this is a widespread problem that can have a huge impact on an individual’s quality of life (NIH). Often this hearing loss is a result of interactions in the workplace. It has been found that occupational hearing loss is the most common work-related injury in the US with approximately 22 million workers exposed to hazardous noise levels in the workplace causing an estimated $242 million on workers compensation for hearing loss disability (CDC).

So what can you do to preserve your hearing?

Start by learning what noises are dangerous so you can be aware of when you are risking your hearing. The CDC noise meter http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/noise/noisemeter.html will help to familiarize yourself with these noises.

Or you can simply ask yourself these questions if you think you are being exposed to a dangerous noise (ASHA).

  • Do I have to raise my voice to be heard?
  • Can  I hear people from 3 feet away over the noise?
  • Does the speech around me sound muffled after I leave the noise?
  • Do I have pain or ringing in my ears after hearing a noise?

If you answered yes to the above questions, you are most likely exposing yourself to noise at a dangerous level.

Noise is measured in decibels (dB). The higher the dB, the louder the noise is, noise over 85dB may permanently cause hearing loss.  In addition to monitoring the noise level you should be aware of how long you are exposing yourself to the noise. Exposure to a less damaging, but still high decibel level for long periods of time can be just as damaging to short exposure to extremely high decibel levels.

Loud noise has also been found to create secondary effects such as irritation, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, high blood pressure, increased or abnormal heart rate, uneasy stomach, and difficulty sleeping (ASHA). So protecting yourself from loud noises does not only protect your hearing, but your health in general.

So now that you know where the danger is, protect yourself from it. Don’t wait till your hearing is damaged, start  protecting yourself today!

  • Avoid putting yourself in situations where you will hear loud noises
  • Use appropriate hearing protection if the situation is unavoidable (ex: using hair  dryer,  attending concerts, mowing the lawn, vacuuming). You can do this by purchasing basic earplugs or ear muffs at your local drugstore or supermarket.
  • Make sure you use your ear protection correctly.
    • Ear plugs should be placed in the ear canal so they completely block the canal
    • Ear muffs should fit tightly and completely cover the ear
    • Ear plugs and muffs can be used in combination to increase the amount of protection. Individually they reduce noise 15 to 30 db, when used together they can reduce noise 30 to 60 dB
    • Don’t expose yourself to loud noises for long periods
    • Plug your ears with your fingers if a loud noise such as a fire alarm or emergency vehicle comes unexpectedly
    • Keep the noise level on music on or below the halfway mark
    • Look for noise ratings when purchasing appliances and purchase quieter appliances

Hearing Loss Resources

For additional information about hearing loss, please browse through the following links.

http://www.healthyhearing.com

http://www.asha.org/public/hearing/Noise/

http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/wise/

http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/hearingloss/facts.html

It’s a Noisy Planet: Protect Their Hearing, NIDCD, National Institutes of Health

Turn it to the Left, American Academy of Audiology

This resource is for hearing conservation professionals, audiologists and occupational safety professionals and contains various educational and training materials to use in the workplace. http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/noise/toolbox.html

This resource contains a simple checklist of questions to assess hearing conservation efforts. http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/noise/hearingchecklist.html

This resource contains  non-technical guidance for employers and employees on developing and maintaining hearing loss prevention programs. http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/96-110/

References

American Speech-Language Association. The Pevalence and Incidence of Hearing Loss in Adults. http://www.asha.org/public/hearing/Prevalence-and-Incidence-of-Hearing-Loss-in-Adults/

American Speech-Language Association. Noise. http://www.asha.org/public/hearing/Noise/

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2011, May 10). Noise and Hearing Loss Prevention.  Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/noise/about.html

National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders. (2010, June 7). Have WISE EARS! For life. NIH Publication No. 00-4848. Retrieved from http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/hearing/pages/wiseears.aspx

National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD). (June 16, 2010). Statistics and Epidemiology: Quick Statistics. Retrieved from  http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/statistics/quick.htm



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