Although some factors that account for hearing loss cannot be avoided, like family history, disease, and the aging process, others are directly related to a person’s choices. For example, noise exposure is one of the leading causes of hearing loss in adults. We’ve known for many years that loud environments endanger the ears, but until recently, we did not know that sound deprivation may also lead to irreversible hearing loss. So if you’ve been putting off a visit to the audiologist to discuss your hearing loss, why wait any longer? Your procrastination could have permanent consequences.
Sound Deprivation May Lead to Irreversible Hearing Loss
This revelation reflects the findings of a study conducted at the Eaton-Peabody Laboratories at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary in November 2015 (source). The researchers followed a group of adult mice with chronic hearing loss in one ear resulting from an issue in the ear canal, eardrum, or middle ear (also known as conductive hearing loss). They tracked changes in the inner ear for a year, noting the effects of sound deprivation. They observed a dramatic transformation, including a significant loss of synaptic connections (which allow sensory cells to send electrical signals to the brain). For humans, this means that sound deprivation from untreated conductive hearing loss may lead to irreversible hearing loss.
Although other studies have looked at the effects of acoustic deprivation, to the researchers’ knowledge, none have specifically examined how it can change the inner ear. Thus, the results of this study were both surprising and concerning. Hopefully, they will help people better understand the importance of swift and effectual treatment for hearing loss.
Causes of Conductive Hearing Loss
So what causes conductive hearing loss? This form of hearing loss occurs when a problem prevents sounds waves from moving through the outer ear, eardrum, and middle ear. All of the ear’s parts must work together for hearing to occur, so any issue or obstruction on the sound waves’ route can cause a person to suffer from conductive hearing loss. Common causes include earwax blockage, an ear infection (otitis media), and an abnormal growth of the middle ear (otosclerosis). Other causes include a foreign body in the external ear canal, a tumor of the ear canal, a narrow or blocked ear canal, a perforated eardrum, and unequal air pressure in the external and middle ear (barotrauma).
Although hearing loss is one of the most common health conditions affecting older adults, children are also at risk. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, nearly 75% of children will have at least one ear infection by age three (source). In addition, many children suffer from chronic ear infections. If left untreated, these ear infections can cause hearing loss – often temporary but potentially permanent – so it is important that parents pay close attention to their children’s ear and hearing health.
The Danger of Avoiding Treatment
Of course, audiologists have always urged people to seek treatment for conductive hearing loss to improve their health, safety, and quality of life. Now, however, this study has proven that conductive hearing loss may produce lasting effects. The damage that occurs in the inner ear due to auditory deprivation sometimes mimics the damage produced by age-related and noise-induced hearing loss. If left untreated for long enough, even a hearing aid will not be able to restore hearing.
Unfortunately, many people choose not to receive treatment for hearing loss. This is especially common when the person only experiences hearing loss in one ear. Instead of remedying the issue, they rely on their functioning ear. In addition, some people avoid treatment because they’re concerned about the expense or the treatment method (like surgery), not recognizing the long-term ramifications.
Early intervention is crucial. Thus, if you know (or just suspect) that you suffer from hearing loss, contact an audiologist. In addition to having trouble hearing, you might experience ear pain, muffled hearing, or a feeling of fullness in the ear. Sometimes this will occur in just one ear, so as we mentioned above, instead of relying on your other ear, make an appointment with an audiologist today.
Don’t simply hope that the problem will resolve itself. After all, it may not. Remember that just one appointment with a doctor of audiology could change your life forever. To get started, contact the Sound Relief Hearing Center if you live in Colorado. At our five locations (four around Denver, one in Fort Collins), we provide hearing tests, hearing aids, hearing protection, and more. Our team of audiologists specializes in tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and hyperacusis (sensitivity to sound).
To learn more about us, please browse our website, visit our Youtube channel, or give us a call at 720-344-7600. You can also schedule an appointment online to meet with one of our audiologists. We look forward to hearing from you!