Lesser-known Causes of Hearing Loss

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Matthew S. MacDonald, audiologist and director of Dalzells Audiology in Rochester: meningitis, viral inner ear infection and autoimmune disease can also cause hearing

Many people associate hearing loss with older war veterans or people who have worked for 40 years in a noisy factory.

However, many less well-known things can cause hearing loss.

Matthew S. MacDonald, audiologist and director of Dalzells Audiology in Rochester, said that bacterial meningitis, viral inner ear infection and autoimmune disease can cause sensorineural hearing loss due to inflammation in the inner ear (cochlea) and subsequent physical damage to cochlear structures. “Prompt diagnosis and medical treatment with antibiotics or steroids can reduce or reverse these hearing losses,” he said. “Left untreated these hearing losses become permanent.”

The middle ear bones are part of the hearing process. When bony deposits accumulate on these bones (ossification), they become so stiff that their ability to conduct sound lessens.

“Over long periods of time, the ossification can enter the cochlear itself causing sensorineural hearing loss,” MacDonald said. “Middle-ear surgery and hearing instrument use are common treatments.”

Although unmanaged diabetes can bear many life-altering consequences, hearing loss is not one many people consider. MacDonald said that diabetics with unmanaged diabetes can experience “permanent sensorineural hearing loss secondary to microvascular disease affecting the blood supply to the cochlea. These hearing losses are usually progressive and can result in total deafness, so proper management by an endocrinologist is important.”

Most people realize that listening to loud music greater than 85dB can result in permanent hearing loss. However, they may not know that listening to loud music while strenuously exercising worsens and accelerates the effect, “though typically taking many years to occur,” MacDonald said.

Benign growths on the acoustic nerve can also cause hearing loss. Called an acoustic neuroma or vestibular schwannoma, the growths compress the auditory nerve, causing hearing loss one on side, along with dizziness and facial nerve weakness.

“Treatments include watch and wait, surgical removal of the growth and radiation treatment,” MacDonald said. “Most individuals are left with some, if not complete, hearing loss in the affected ear.”

Meniere’s disease is another cause of one-sided hearing loss because of one of the fluids in the inner ear is too high. Tinnitus and occasional vertigo can accompany it. MacDonald said that treatment includes medications to manage the vertigo and nausea, diuretics, and anti-anxiety medications.

“Sometimes, people use hearing instruments successfully, but often the resulting sounds are so distorted that they are not useful,” MacDonald said.

Some medications can cause hearing loss. Called ototoxic, the amount of the medication taken matters.

Joe Kozelsky, retired audiologist and honorary board member of the Hearing Loss Association of America Rochester Chapter in Fairport, encourages people to “talk with their doctor about concerns they have about side effects of medications.”

Although cognition is a top priority with head injuries and birth trauma, Kozelsky said that hearing loss can also result.

It’s not commonplace, but sudden, unexplained hearing loss happens. Kozelsky said about 5,000 cases a year are reported in the US.

“If someone wakes up and they’re not hearing well, they should seek immediate attention from an otologist,” he said. “If treated immediately, more often than not, it can be totally eliminated. It’s so critical. Some think they should wait a few days, but they’ve got to get in right away. If you wait, very often it’s not reversible at all.”