8 Common Causes of Hearing Loss

Hearing loss is a common problem, affecting about 36 million American adults. But it isn’t just an adult issue. Hearing loss affects people of all ages. In fact, about 15% of children in the United States have some degree of hearing impairment. Hearing loss can occur from a variety of causes, from exposure to loud noises to certain health conditions. Here are some of the most common. 

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    1. Loud Noises
    One of the most common causes of hearing loss is exposure to loud sounds, such as loud music. Any sound over 85 decibels can cause hearing loss. This is about the loudness of a hair dryer or heavy city traffic. The louder the sound or the longer your exposure to it, the more likely you are to have hearing loss. You can help protect your ears by avoiding loud sounds and using earplugs when exposed to noise.

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    2. Aging
    Hearing loss is a common problem as we age. It usually occurs slowly and gets worse over time. You may have more hearing loss as you age if it runs in your family or if you had a lot of exposure to loud noises over the years. While you can’t do much to prevent hearing loss due to age, hearing aids and other devices can help improve your hearing.

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    3. Certain Chemicals
    Some chemicals, called ototoxic chemicals, can cause hearing loss when you breathe them in or they get on your skin. Once in your bloodstream, they can damage your hearing nerve. These chemicals are present in many household products, including pesticides, paints and varnishes, cigarette smoke, spray paint, and cleaning agents. You can protect yourself by using proper ventilation and wearing gloves when handling these types of chemicals.

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    4. Frequent Ear Infections
    Ear infections are a common childhood condition. In most cases, they don’t cause any lasting damage. But when children have repeated ear infections or have fluid in the ear for a long time, it can lead to hearing loss. If your child has any signs of an ear infection, such as a fever, drainage from the ear, or trouble sleeping, make sure to see your pediatrician.

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    5. Sudden Deafness
    Sudden deafness is a loss of hearing that occurs quickly over a day or a few days. It most often affects only one ear, but can sometimes affect both. Some people hear a loud popping sound right before losing hearing. You may also feel dizzy or hear a ringing in your ears. Sudden deafness is a medical emergency, so you should call your doctor right away. In most cases, there is no known cause.

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    6. Earwax Buildup
    Too much earwax is another common cause of hearing loss. If you think you have excess earwax, ask your doctor about ways to remove it safely at home. He or she may recommend baby oil, mineral oil, glycerin, or eardrops to help soften earwax. Never insert a cotton swab or other instrument into your ear canal in an attempt to remove earwax. This can damage your eardrum.

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    7. Infections and Illnesses
    Certain infections and illnesses can also lead to hearing loss. These can include measles, meningitis, the flu, mumps, and chickenpox. Fortunately, most of these highly contagious viral illnesses are preventable with vaccines. So make sure everyone in your family is current with their immunizations. If you or your child has any hearing loss after an illness, be sure to tell your doctor.

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    8. Congenital Hearing Loss
    Congenital hearing loss is hearing loss present at birth. About 50% of the time, this hearing loss is due to a genetic problem that one or both parents pass to their baby. It can also result from something that happens during pregnancy or birth, such as an infection, premature birth, or low birth weight. Babies undergo screening for this type of hearing loss shortly after birth.

8 Common Causes of Hearing Loss

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  1. Chemical Exposure Effects on Hearing and Balance. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. http://www.asha.org/uploadedFiles/AIS-Chemical-Exposure-Effects-Hearing-Balance.pdf 
  2. Ear Infections. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. http://www.asha.org/public/hearing/Otitis-Media 
  3. Hearing Loss. NIH Senior Health. http://nihseniorhealth.gov/hearingloss/causesriskfactorsprevention/01.html  
  4. Hearing Loss After Birth. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. http://www.asha.org/public/hearing/Acquired-Hearing-Loss 
  5. Hearing Loss and Older Adults. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/hearing/pages/older.aspx 
  6. Hearing Loss at Birth. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. http://www.asha.org/public/hearing/Congenital-Hearing-Loss 
  7. It’s Important to Have Your Baby’s Hearing Screened. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/hearing/pages/screened.aspx 
  8. Noise. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. http://www.asha.org/public/hearing/Noise 
  9. Noise-Induced Hearing Loss. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/hearing/pages/noise.aspx 
  10. Sudden Deafness. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/hearing/pages/sudden.aspx
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Sep 1
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.