An Overview of Common Causes of Deafness and Hearing Loss

There Are Many Potential Causes of Hearing Loss

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Hearing loss has so many causes that it would be impossible to list them all. In some cases, hearing loss is just one of the effects of a condition such as a syndrome. Other causes are genetic while some may be neither syndromic nor genetic. Plus, some people lose their hearing later in life while some are born deaf.

Causes of Hearing Loss in Children

Babies and young children are often born with or acquire hearing loss early in childhood.

Some of the top causes of deafness in children include complications during pregnancy such as prematurity and cytomegalovirus and post-natal causes like CHARGE or Waardenburg syndromes.

Sometimes, hearing loss is only one aspect of a group of conditions. People who have hearing loss as a result of one of these causes may only have hearing loss or they may have hearing loss along with other symptoms.

  • BOR Syndrome stands for "branchio-oto-renal" syndrome. This genetic syndrome involves hearing loss, a mutated gene, and the risk of kidney problems.
  • CHARGE Syndrome is a complex genetic syndrome that affects each child differently. This is relatively rare and can affect the eyes, ears, and heart.
  • Congenital Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is one of the more common causes of hearing loss and is almost as damaging as rubella.
  • Goldenhar Syndrome is a fairly rare facial disorder, which has hearing loss as one of its many characteristics.
  • Rubella is also known as German measles and is a virus infection. When rubella occurs in early pregnancy it can lead to the baby being born deaf, blind, or with other concerns.
  • Treacher Collins Syndrome is a relatively rare disorder that causes both hearing loss and facial disfigurement.
  • Usher Syndrome can cause a person to be deaf or blind and it's common among people who have a loss of both hearing and sight.
  • Waardenburg Syndrome is one of the more unusual genetic causes of deafness, affecting the eyes and hair as well as the ears.

Genetic Causes of Hearing Loss

In the deaf and hard of hearing community, people say "deaf of deaf" (or DOD) to refer to people who were born deaf to deaf parents. Other times, a child may be born deaf because of a genetic trait that their hearing parents carry.

Genetic research into deafness and hearing loss is often in the news because exciting progress is being made into identifying genes that cause it. This may eventually lead to new genetic therapies.

Sometimes when the cause of hearing loss in a child is unknown, it is later found to be caused by Connexin 26. This genetic disorder is caused by the deficiency of a particular protein with raises potassium in the inner ear and damages hearing.

Drug-Induced Causes of Hearing Loss

Certain medications can cause hearing loss as well. In less developed countries, the rate of hearing loss can be high because of the use of these drugs due to the lack of better alternatives.

Ototoxicity is caused by medications that include hearing loss as a side effect. Ototoxic drugs include some antibiotics, chemotherapy, and anti-inflammatory medications.

Ototoxicity can be either temporary or permanent and can worsen hearing loss in those who are already experiencing it.

Loss of Hearing Later in Life

Some causes of hearing loss primarily affect adults or teenagers. Many show gradual symptoms, though some can be sudden. In many cases, there is a cause or identifiable connection to hearing and a particular medical condition. Yet, there are some cases of sudden deafness that remain a mystery.

  • Meniere's Disease includes hearing loss among its symptoms. It can be difficult to live with but there is no shortage of people to turn to for support.
  • Loud noise is known to be a major cause of hearing loss in people of all ages. Adults who are exposed to an explosion such as a bombing or those who work around heavy equipment or loud machinery are most susceptible. Another cause is loud music which teenagers are often exposed to.
  • Otosclerosis is a hearing loss-related condition that can be treated with surgery. For some people, the sudden hearing loss of otosclerosis may be linked to osteoporosis.
  • Presbycusis is also known as age-related hearing loss. Many of us are familiar with this because we've seen it happen to our elders. As we age, we are at greater risk of hearing loss and it's typically gradual and occurs in both ears at once.
  • Sudden deafness can happen without warning. Also known as sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL), it can occur immediately or progress over a few days. At times, people can go to bed hearing and wake up deaf. The cause may or may not be identifiable.
  • Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMJ) affects the jaw and can cause hearing loss. This is because the middle ear and temporomandibular joint are directly connected.

Other Causes of Hearing Loss

A number of causes of hearing loss are not genetic, nor are they syndromic.

  • Acoustic Neurinoma is a lesser known cause of hearing loss. It is a benign tumor that affects the nerves between the inner ear and the brain.
  • Autoimmune Inner Ear Disease (AIED) is a rare autoimmune disorder that attacks the inner ear and results in a rapid loss of hearing.
  • Auditory Neuropathy (AN) or Auditory Dyssynchrony (AD) is a condition in which a "hearing" person cannot process the sounds they hear properly. It affects each person in a different manner and many can understand speech in quiet environments but not with the presence of background noise.
  • Auditory Processing Disorder affects the ability to process sound. This type of hearing impairment cannot be detected in hearing tests. It often affects a person's ability to learn, read, and listen or comprehend in noisy environments.
  • Cholesteatoma is a growth in the ear that can cause hearing loss. The cause may be chronic ear infections or trauma.
  • Enlarged Vestibular Aqueduct Syndrome (LVAS) is a fairly common condition causing hearing loss. It occurs when the area between the inner ear and cranial space becomes larger than normal.
  • Glue Ear usually causes temporary conductive hearing loss. This is brought on by a glue-like fluid that gets trapped in the middle ear. It may be treated by surgically placed ear tubes if it cannot be cleared on its own.
  • Injuries are a possible cause for hearing loss. The eardrum is particularly susceptible to injury from head trauma or foreign objects.
  • Meningitis is a deadly illness. If certain drugs are used to treat it, the patient can be left deaf.
  • Mondini Syndrome is a malformation of the cochlea, causing hearing losses of varying degrees.
  • Mumps is best known for puffy cheeks, but less well known is the fact it can cause hearing loss.

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