Hearing loss or hearing impairment is a common condition that affects millions of people around the world. It cannot be cured completely, however, treatment can help manage it. It may affect only one or both the ears.
Hearing loss is different from deafness. In the former, the ability to hear properly is impaired or reduced. However, the latter is mostly characterized by total loss of hearing. Deafness may result because of nerve damage or damage to the inner ear. In the US alone, more than 50 percent of the adults over the age of 75 suffer from a disabling hearing loss.
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Hearing loss is mostly thought to be an inevitable part of aging. However, little do people know that it can result because of natural changes in aging. But there are a number of other reasons as well that may cause hearing loss.
Most common reasons of hearing loss
Some of the most common reasons for hearing loss include the following:
- Exposure to excessive noise
- Trauma or injury to the ear
- Specific conditions such as nasal, ear, or upper respiratory infection
- A family history of hearing loss
- Congenital disorders
However, people usually miss out on one of the less common yet possible causes of hearing loss – ototoxic drugs. Yes, there are certain medications and drugs that can possibly induce ototoxicity and trigger hearing loss.
Irrespective of the hearing loss, it is absolutely essential for people to seek medical help to manage it. This is because the untreated hearing loss can severely affect the quality of life of the sufferer and cause social isolation and depression. It may also lead to unemployment in some cases and increase the risk of falls and accidents due to failure.
This article explores some of the most common causes of hearing loss and how certain drugs can also induce it. But let’s first examine the types of hearing loss that can affect children and adults.
Types of Hearing Loss
There are two main types of hearing loss. Each of these is described below:
Sensorineural hearing loss
It is the most common types of hearing loss that results due to damage to the auditory nerve or the minute hair-like cells in the inner ear. It is a permanent type of hearing loss that most commonly affects adults. People with this type of hearing loss find it difficult to understand sounds and speech even when they are loud enough.
Conductive hearing loss
This type of hearing loss results due to a mechanical problem such as obstruction caused by the deposition of ear wax. This prevents the sound waves from reaching the eardrum. This can be permanent (less common) or temporary (more common). It can also be treated with the help of medications.
Common Causes of Hearing Loss
There are many reasons that may cause hearing loss in children and adults. Some of the most common reasons for hearing loss are given below:
- Age-related hearing loss (presbycusis)
- Trauma or injury to the ear or head
- Genetic malformation or other reasons
- Prolonged exposure to loud noise such as music or traffic
- Specific illnesses such as autoimmune disease, mumps, and otosclerosis
- Acoustic neuroma or tumor
Less-talked About Cause of Hearing Loss: Ototoxic Drugs
Ototoxicity is the term used for a specific class of drugs, medications, and supplements that may cause hearing loss. Even though these drugs are prescribed by the physician for the treatment of some underlying condition, they may potentially prove toxic to the sensory or the hair cells in the inner ear, thus causing a ringing sensation, imbalance, or hearing issues.
Not many people would have noted but hearing loss is one of the side effects mentioned in the patient information literature (PILs) that come with the medicine. It is for people to ignore the warning, however, sometimes the hearing damage from such medications is profound.
According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association ( ASHA ), there are around 200 medications, chemicals, and drugs that can potentially cause balance problems and hearing loss. The damage from these medications can be temporary and treatable with medications or other interventions. However, sometimes the damage is permanent and completely irreversible. The damaging effect of autotoxic drugs tends to increase as the drug starts to accumulate in the body.
Most common class of medications
The three most common class of medications that are known to cause a disturbance in balance and hearing include the following:
A class of antibiotics known as aminoglycosides is suspected to have hearing loss as one of the side effects. This drug is recommended to people with serious infections such as meningitis and when other drugs fail to control the infection. Previous research suggests that this class of drugs is transported into the inner years by the same pathway that prevents the inner hair cells from damage against harmful blood elements.
Pain-relieving medications are commonly used and prescribed around the world. A majority of them are available as over-the-counter medications as well. However, do you know that regular use of some of the most common non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), aspirin, and acetaminophen can cause hearing loss? People who use or have been advised pain-killers or NSAIDs daily, therefore, should ask their physician about its impact on their hearing ability.
The chemotherapy drug commonly used for the treatment of ovarian, testicular, bladder, and other forms of cancer – Cisplatin – has also been associated with tinnitus (ringing sensation) and vertigo (balance issues). Temporary and permanent hearing loss is also associated with the use of this medication. This side effect is specific to the use of platinum-based chemotherapy drugs.