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What Are The Main Causes of Hearing Loss?

The causes of hearing loss are complex. Age, noise, diet, disease and genetics all seem to play a part in hearing loss. For instance, if you suffer with diabetes, well then you have a greater chance of having a hearing loss. The same can be said if you suffer with a heart condition. We have known for some time that exposure to noise plays a huge part in hearing loss and that hearing ability in general seems to degrade with age. Let’s take a look at the biggest causes of hearing loss.

Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL)

Many Australians suffer from a condition known as Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL), whereby their auditory systems are damaged as a result of excessive noise exposure. This condition has become so prevalent that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has categorised it as a global pandemic.

Industrial noise exposure is the single biggest contributor to NIHL. Even with hearing protection devices in the workplace, a study by Wilson et al. (1998) found that 37% of patients with hearing loss attributed their condition to excessive noise exposure, resulting from power tools, high-powered stereos, motorsports, workplace accidents and other causes. A 2005 estimate held that the annual cost of NIHL was $11.75 billion, or $200 for every Australian.

Fortunately, NIHL is the is the greatest preventable cause of hearing loss. WorkSafe programs and other occupational health and safety regulations are being implemented across the country for the hearing protection of industrial workers. Progress is also being made on further education about hearing loss in the workplace, the establishment of decibel limits in high-noise industrial settings and technological advances in ear protection.

Other causes of hearing loss are more difficult to identify and prevent over time.

Middle ear infection in children

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), a chronic middle ear infection is one of the main hearing loss causes that create mild to moderate hearing impairment in children. Officially known as Otitis Media or OM, this inflammation of the middle ear results in a build-up of fluid that interferes with normal hearing in children. While most children experience a middle ear infection before their 3rd birthday, a persistent case of OM among older children and teens can impact them for life, making it difficult for them to articulate themselves and communicate effectively with others.

Poor living conditions are a major contributor to the risk of chronic middle ear infections in children. Common factors like overcrowding, poor hygiene, malnutrition, lack of clean water and sub-optimal access to appropriate health care facilities all play a role in the spread of Chronic Suppurative Otitis Media (CSOM), particularly in indigenous communities. With less protection from antibodies, infants and young children are particularly susceptible to this disease.

A 2002 study by Dr. Harvey L. Coates found that hearing loss in Australia is prevalent amongst aboriginal children who suffer in particular from CSOM, diagnosing the condition by irritation in the tympanic membrane of the middle ear. That same study called for a substantial increase in the amount of Commonwealth funding to health services in the indigenous community. As it stands, rural communities and low socio-economic areas face a much higher risk of chronic middle ear infections than children in urban areas and communities experiencing a rise in socio-economic status.

Other key causes of hearing loss

Presbycusis: The deterioration of hearing as a result of ageing, perhaps the universal cause of all hearing loss. This is most common for people over the age of 50.
Viral and bacterial infections : Microbes and other threats, such as the measles virus, can cause bilateral hearing loss. Certain drugs and medications have side effects that may cause hearing and balance disorders.

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