EAR, NOSE & THROAT
Hearing loss is an unfortunate issue that is attributed to several different factors. Not all hearing loss is permanent. Some hearing loss is a result of injury or ear infections and can be reversed. A permanent loss may be a result of genetics. 1 in 2 people over the age of 65 have some degree of hearing loss. You may also experience permanent hearing loss when you have consistent ear injuries such as a perforated eardrum or being around loud noises without earplugs. If you think you are experiencing hearing loss, know that you are not the only one. It is becoming more and more common, but there are ways it can be avoided unless contributed to genetic factors.
Hearing loss ranges from mild to severe. Hearing loss is now the third most common health concern in America, and now nearly 36 million Americans report that they have hearing loss. Hearing loss can be a part of just getting older, but it affects your quality of life. In mild cases, hearing loss is associated with excessive earwax and fluid build-up in the Eustachian tubes. In these situations, hearing loss is treated with antibiotics that rid you of the infection and removal of ear wax.
1 in 500 infants is born with hearing loss (CDC). Hearing loss in newborns may not be genetic. It could be a factor of infections during development. Hearing loss may also come from congenital deformities. Microtia and lop ears are two deformities that cause hearing loss but can also be fixed. Diagnosis of genetic hearing loss is not always made at birth. Sometimes with a genetic hearing loss, symptoms do not occur until adolescence.
- One genetic disorder is otosclerosis. Otosclerosis is a disorder that affects the rebuilding of the bones in the ear. For you to be able to hear, the bones have to be flexible and able to accept vibrations from sound waves. Otosclerosis is a stiffening of the bones in the ear. When the bones become stiff, they are unable to move. If the bones of the ear do not vibrate, it will send vibrations to the cochlea and the auditory nerve will receive a signal that can be transmitted to the brain.
- Genetic mutations can be a cause of hearing loss. The GJB2 gene is one gene that is associated with the cochlea. It directly affects sensorineural transmission. The cochlea is essential for transmitting sound vibrations into chemical signals. The cochlea contains hair fibers. When those vibrations hit the cochlea, the hair fibers move allowing potassium to enter and create chemical signals that are sent to the brain. When there is a GJB2 mutation, the protein Connexin 26 prevents potassium from flowing when those hair follicles move. Without this potassium, no signals are created, and hearing loss is the result.
- Noise is a huge factor in hearing loss. Those who work in dangerously noisy environments are more likely to experience hearing loss in their lifetime. Noise at dangerous levels can damage the ear’s ability to convert sound waves into signals. The ear will not react to sound vibrations as efficiently. The ear is already a small part of the body. The structures of the ear are even smaller. Although these structures are not weak, they can wear down just like any other part of the body. If you are around dangerously high noises, wear earplugs to preserve the life of your ears.
- Injuries damage the structures of the ear. Many injuries can be fixed, but some are permanent. Perforating the eardrum is a common injury that can be treated. When you perforate the eardrum, it creates a hole or rips in the membrane. Other injuries include skull fractures and direct hits to the head. Skull fractures can move the structures of the ear and even create a rip in the tympanic membrane (eardrum). When you are hit too hard, you may initially notice some ringing in your ears. Being hit can cause damage to the ear especially the ossicles.
Hearing loss is nearly inevitable as you age. When you are young, you do not consider how your lifestyle may affect your hearing in the future. Listening to loud music is common amongst teens and young adults. It may not seem like it at the moment, but that habit can lead to the onset of the hearing loss earlier in life. Hearing loss can be a genetic factor. Unfortunately, that is something you cannot help but hearing aids have become an excellent way to help those dealing with hearing loss. Other factors such as ear infections and injury typically bring temporary hearing loss and can usually be reversed. Hearing loss can affect your quality of life, but the good thing is you are not alone. If you have hearing concerns speak with a physician about it and take steps now to protect your ears from further damage.
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