A 30-year-musician in the U.K. recently walked into her doctor’s office. Over the past seven days, she had begun to have trouble hearing in one ear. She was experiencing what she believed to be tinnitus, which many people experience as ringing, thumping, scratching, or other unexplained sounds in the ear.
Imagine her surprise when her doctors found that a spider had crawled into her ear and taken up residence there. They safely removed the spider. Her hearing returned to normal. I know that was a relief!
Chances are, if you’re experiencing hearing loss, it’s not a spider. You can relax.
But stories like these can be reminders that there are many causes of hearing loss. If you notice your normal hearing is reduced, you could have an ear blockage. Or it may be something else.
I’d like to share with you some of the causes of hearing loss.
Sensorineural vs. Conductive Hearing Loss
The inner ear is filled with tiny, fragile hairs that dance with sound vibrations. This movement communicates with the brain through auditory nerves. The brain then interprets different sounds into things you recognize, such as words, a voice, music, or a lawnmower.
Conductive hearing loss occurs when something is blocking sound waves from reaching the inner ear.
Causes of conductive hearing loss
If you’ve ever had a bad cold, you know that it can change how well you hear. Things sound muffled. This is because fluid is building up in the middle ear, blocking those sound waves. This will usually go away when you get better. But other kinds of ear blockages may not go away, such as:
- Benign tumor growth
- Malfunction of the eustachian tubes that drain excess fluid from the middle ear
- Genetics, which can impact how your ear canal is shaped
- An object stuck in the ear
- Compacted earwax
- A damaged eardrum
Causes of sensorineural hearing loss
If you have sensorineural hearing loss, then those little hairs in the inner ear have been damaged. Unlike other hairs on your body, these hairs don’t grow back.
Several factors can increase your risk of developing mild to severe hearing loss. Those include:
- A very loud noise exposure, even for a very short time (for example, a close-range gunshot or firework)
- Continual exposure to a loud sound, for as few as 15 minutes (for example, a concert, weedeater, motorcycle)
- Certain medications (opioids, some chemo drugs, certain diuretics, OTC pain killers)
- Medical conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure
- Ototoxic chemicals, which some people could be exposed to at work
This type of hearing loss is typically gradual. You may lose the ability to hear and understand certain people or words. As it progresses, you may struggle to understand anything.
However, sometimes sensorineural hearing loss is sudden. This is a medical emergency that could lead to permanent hearing loss if untreated.
What’s Causing My Hearing Loss?
When you come to see me, we’ll rule out any of the conductive hearing loss possibilities first. If you do have one of these causes of hearing loss, then it may simply be a matter of removing the ear blockage. But you should not try that at home because you could push the blockage further and damage your eardrum.
Once I’ve determined that it’s not conductive, we’ll use a special machine that can identify what types of sounds you have trouble hearing. Then I can work with you to develop a customized solution that can help you hear better.
If you’re noticing your normal hearing reduced, please call my office to schedule an appointment.