What Causes Hearing Loss?

We know that 60% of Canadians aged 19-79 experience hearing health issues including hearing loss and/or tinnitus, but what causes it?

For some, they were born with congenital conditions resulting in hearing impairment, while others experience a delayed onset of hearing loss caused by aging, health factors and their environment.

The Different Types of Hearing Loss

There are three types of hearing loss including conductive, sensorineural, and mixed.

Conductive Hearing Loss

Conductive hearing loss is when there is something blocking sound from passing through the outer ear or middle ear. It could be caused by an ear infection, earwax or fluid in the ear. If loud noises sound muffled and soft sounds are hard to hear, this may be what you are experiencing.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Sensorineural hearing loss means there is a loss of hearing in the inner ear or auditory nerve. It can be caused by loud noises, diseases or aging. Children are prone to this type of hearing loss due to congenital conditions, trauma during childbirth, head injuries or infections, and it is often permanent, but hearing aids can help.

Mixed Hearing Loss

Mixed hearing loss is when a person has both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss, which may be caused by injury, infection or inherited condition. It is likely that specific treatment may be needed for both types.

Knowing the type of hearing loss a person is experiencing can help determine the cause and best treatment method.

Factors That Can Influence Hearing Loss 

Loud Noises

If a sound is too loud or lasts too long, it can lead to noise-induced hearing loss. Hair cells in the ear are sensory receptor cells, and they are responsible for converting mechanical stimuli evoked by sound into electrical signals that are transmitted to the brain. In basic terms, loud noises can overwork these cells and cause them to die, and because there is a finite number of hair cells, damage to them is irreversible.

Because noise-induced hearing loss is a leading work-related condition, it’s important to protect your ears as much as possible if you’re often in a loud environment. Sound levels that are 85 decibels (dbA) and higher are considered dangerous if an individual is exposed for over 15 minutes.

If you’re listening to music through headphones at maximum volume, it is likely to be in the dangerous range. In addition, concerts, sirens and fireworks are often above this threshold. We recommend using ear plugs if you know you’ll be in a loud environment for extra protection.


A natural byproduct of aging is hearing loss, which is known as presbycusis. This can begin as early as 30 years old, and often occurs in both ears. Because it is a gradual process, most people don’t notice it at first. Age-related hearing loss may present as having difficulty hearing clearly, especially when there is background noise.

Presbycusis is caused by changes that occur in our ears as we age. While it is most common for the inner ear to change, the middle ear may also change. Degeneration within the ear impacts the nerve pathways to the brain, which results in hearing loss. Furthermore, the medical issues that arise with age may increase one’s chances of presbycusis.

Health Factors

There are a variety of health factors that can impact one’s hearing, such as infections, diseases and trauma. Otosclerosis, for example, is a disease that causes the middle ear bone to be unable to move.

If the middle ear bone cannot vibrate, the ear cannot properly signal the brain. Another disease that causes hearing loss is Ménière disease, which is when there is build-up of fluid in the chambers of the inner ear. Furthermore, developing an acoustic neuroma, a type of brain tumor, also causes hearing loss.

In addition to health factors that arise within the body, a physical head injury could impact an individual’s hearing. A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is often a cause for hearing loss due to damage to the eardrum or middle ear. Alternatively, a TBI may cause damage to the part of the brain that processes sound.

Ototoxic Medications

There are some medicines that can cause hearing loss. Some examples of these ototoxic medications include some chemotherapy drugs, some aminoglycoside antibiotics, loop diuretics, and high levels of aspirin.

Ototoxic hearing loss can occur in individuals with normal hearing or individuals who already have hearing loss. The first sign of ototoxic hearing loss is tinnitus, but it can develop into loss of balance and complete hearing loss. When ototoxic medications are removed, hearing loss may be reversed, however, damage may be permanent, especially if the dose was high or long-term. It’s possible that you may be experiencing a hearing loss emergency, so it is important to contact your physician if you are concerned.

Congenital Condition

Hearing loss is the most common congenital condition in Canada. Three out of every 1,000 babies are born severely deaf, and another three out of 1,000 have serious hearing loss, according to Caring for Kids.

Some babies have a genetic syndrome that causes hearing loss, such as Waardenburg syndrome, Alport syndrome, Treacher Collins syndrome, Usher syndrome, Down syndrome or Crouzon syndrome. While all of these are caused by different things, they all have the symptom of hearing loss.

Babies with a low birth rate are likely to have sensorineural hearing loss caused by their ears not being fully developed, and babies in utero exposed to alcohol and drugs may experience hearing impairment. In addition, premature babies may also be at risk of hearing loss later in life.

The most common factor for hearing loss in babies is anoxia, which occurs when there is a deficiency of oxygen in the body or brain.

Suspect Hearing Loss?

If you think you may be experiencing hearing loss, it’s important to find a good audiologist to run some tests. Living with untreated hearing loss can lead to mental fatigue, poor emotional wellbeing and dangerous falls.

With 60% of adult Canadians experiencing a hearing health problem, according to Statistics Canada, you are not on this journey alone.

The hearing professionals at NexGen Hearing are here to support you on your journey to better hearing and improved quality of life. They are passionate, dedicated and experienced.

At NexGen Hearing, appointments, hearing aid supplies and minor repairs are free of charge because every patient is valued and welcomed for as long as they need.

There are over 45 clinics in the BC Interior, Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island. Book an appointment at the one closest to you online or by phone at 1-877-606-6671 today.

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