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What is the Most Common Etiology of Hearing Impairment?

By A. Garrett
Updated May 17, 2024
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There are four common etiological causes for hearing loss: earwax buildup, prolonged exposure to noise or acoustic trauma, aging, and infections. Each of the four causes of hearing impairment occur at separate stages of life. The severity of each etiology of hearing impairment varies, and preventing each from occurring is also dependent on what the actual cause of hearing loss is. The reversibility of each cause is contingent on how early the cause of hearing impairment is detected and what type it is.

Cerumen, or earwax, commonly afflicts older people and children. People with a heavy buildup of earwax often experience stifled hearing or irritation inside their ear canal. Removing earwax may also cause hearing loss if not done correctly. When hearing loss is the result of a blockage of this sort, it is called conductive hearing loss. Fortunately, this etiology of hearing impairment is easily treated and only affects hearing temporarily.

The most common cause of hearing impairment for adolescents is noise or acoustic trauma. Long-term subjection to noises such as loud music cause gradual hearing loss. Sudden exposure to loud noises, like gunshots or bombs, leads to instantaneous hearing loss in a phenomenon known as acoustic trauma. Unlike the effects of chronic exposure to noise, acoustic trauma is temporary unless the inner ear is damaged. Listening to music at lower decibels and wearing protective earplugs are ways to avoid this problem.

As people age, the structure of the inner ear changes. Such changes gradually cause hearing loss. The medical condition for this form of hearing loss is called presbycusis and the manner in which hearing is lost is called acquired hearing loss. Depending on the individual, variations in hearing may be mild or severe. Unfortunately, this etiology of hearing impairment is not reversible and is often compounded by one or more of the other causes of hearing loss.

The most common etiology of hearing impairment in newborns and young children is an infection of the ear. When hearing is impaired due to damage caused by infections or other medical conditions, it is called sensorineural impairment. Hearing loss caused by infections is usually temporary. A wide variety of treatments exist to alleviate the pain and eradicate the infection. If left untreated, however, the infection can alter hearing permanently; chronic ear infections may also have lasting effects on hearing.

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