Presbycusis is the gradual hearing loss that affects around 25 percent of the seniors in this country. It usually starts between the ages of 55 and 64. A small number of people will experience loss of hearing earlier in life either due to disease or trauma.
Early-onset sensorineural hearing loss leaves you feeling isolated in a world that used to be full of sound. It interferes with a person’s ability to understand words, interpret noises and enjoy the quality of life that they once knew. Understanding the potential causes of early-onset hearing loss and what your options are if it does happen will help you find ways to manage the condition or assist someone you love experiencing this problem.
What Causes Early-Onset Hearing Loss?
Most hearing loss, both age-related and early-onset, has to due to damage to assets in either the middle or inner ear. When sound waves enter the ear canal, they cause the eardrum to vibrate. That vibrating amplifies the wave enough so the tiny bones in the middle ear move. These bones, in turn, create a ripple in the fluid of the inner ear. This fluid moves small hair cells to create an electrical impulse that the brain converts into conversation, music and all other sounds you take for granted every day.
There are a number of conditions that cause this damage such as:
- Otosclerosis – A disease of the middle ear that prevents the bones from moving.
- Ménière’s disease– A progressive illness that affects the inner ear. The exact cause of Ménière’s disease is unknown, but it may involve an abnormal amount of fluid in the inner ear. It usually starts between the ages of 20 to 50. Symptoms of this condition include ringing in the ears, dizziness and sensitivity to loud noises. It will lead to permanent hearing loss over time.
- Autoimmune inner ear disease– A condition that causes sudden and dramatic hearing loss. Catching the problem early can help reduce some of the damage, however; and restore a percentage of the hearing.
- Noise-induced trauma– A very loud noise is enough to cause permanent hearing loss, because it damages the hair cells in the inner ear. Once these hair cells die, they are gone for good. Hearing loss associated with loud noises can be sudden, like being near an explosion, or gradual with long-term exposure.
- Acoustic neuroma– Generally involves a tumor in the middle or inner ear.
- Traumatic brain injury– A hard blow can damage the part of the brain that allows you to hear or cause an injury to one of the mechanisms in the ear.
What to Do About Early-Onset Hearing Loss?
The most important step you can take if you suspect early-onset hearing loss is to see a doctor. Many conditions that cause you to lose your hearing are treatable either medically or surgically. If the hearing loss is permanent, your doctor can discuss options with you like getting a hearing aid, so you can continue to enjoy life filled with sound.