Wellness- Worth Hearing About™
By: Dr. Paul S. Nash, DC, CTN, LicAcu.;
with major clinical contribution and cooperation provided by Dr. William F. Austin and The Starkey Hearing Foundation
Hearing Loss 101
What are the causes of hearing loss?
By far the most common cause is the natural aging process. Just like our hair thins and gets gray, and our eyes lose fine focus, hair cells in the inner ear weaken, break and grow unresponsive with age.
The second leading cause of hearing loss is exposure to noise. Loud machinery at home or where you work can damage your ears—even short bursts of sound over 90 decibels can have an impact. Prolonged and repetitive noise exposure is the worst culprit. Our daily lives are filled with noises that we can’t control: in factories, military occupations, airplanes, subway trains, and common traffic sounds. However, There are certain noises that we can control, but choose not to, such as; rock concerts, loud shouting and cheering at sporting events, and noisy power tools around the home environment. All of these forms of hearing loss are examples of sensorineural loss. Heredity factors can also play a role in developing this kind of hearing loss. Hearing losses can sometimes result from illness such as severe ear infection, disease, tumors or injury. Blunt trauma such as a sharp blow to the head can also cause damage to the sensitive hearing structures.
An example of one cause of hearing loss that can oftentimes be easily remedied is build-up of earwax in the ear canal that obstructs the conduction of sound. This type of hearing loss will be corrected when the impacted wax is removed. Certain problems will ease on their own, while others may respond to medicines or surgery. These are just some examples of conductive hearing loss.
How do I know if I have hearing loss?
Hearing loss often begins with a reduction in the ability to discern certain ranges or frequencies of sound within the auditory spectrum. The best way to detect hearing loss is by a screening test for hearing performed by a competent specialist. If you find that you need to ask friends, family members or complete strangers to repeat what they have just said then you may want to consider having your hearing tested promptly.
How can I protect against hearing loss?
One simple method to guard against hearing loss is to avoid exposure to loud noises. If your work environment requires being subjected to loud noise then consider wearing ear plugs or protective sound equipment. Caution may be required when taking certain medications that are known to be ototoxic (toxic to the hearing cells in the ear). The most commonly known prescription drugs for inducing damage to hearing function include certain antibiotics (examples include: streptomycin, neomycin, kanamycin); salicylates in large or extended quantities (ex: aspirins), diuretics (ex: lasix, ethacrynic acid); and chemotherapy drugs (ex: cisplatin, carboplatin, nitrogen mustard).
What steps can be taken to help restore hearing loss?
Advancements in the hearing aid industry have made it possible to manipulate specific auditory sound ranges and to amplify those sounds back to the ear in order that one may be able to better hear those previously lost sound frequencies. The Starkey Hearing foundation has been instrumental in leading the pack with current technologies that simulate near normal hearing for many people without experiencing the problematic feedback that can often be associated with some hearing aids.
Hearing loss may be difficult to detect in some individuals Oxidative damage occurs when free-radicals can interact with and destroy the fragile hair cells deep within the ear. This oxidative damage arises when there is an excess amount of reactive oxygen and/or nitrogen species (free radicals). Free radical production is usually controlled by the normal antioxidant defense mechanisms present within the cellular environment. These include intracellular enzymes such as; glutathione peroxidase, superoxide dismutase and other antioxidant compounds like Vitamin E and Vitamin C. Oxidative damage is known to occur in all individuals, however, when there are insufficient levels of antioxidants available to control the free radical production then greater insult to the cells may occur. If sufficient oxidative injury takes place then the hair cell function will diminish and the cell may eventually die. The bottom line is that the greater the damage the greater the likelihood that hearing loss will be the end result.
How does hearing loss occur?
Noise-induced hearing threshold shifts (NITS) among US children. In particular, loud music produced from headphones that plug the ear and concentrate the sound within the ear canal are primary culprits. Among children and adolescents, NITS may be a progressive problem with continued exposure to excessive noise, which can lead to high-frequency sound discrimination difficulties (eg, speech consonants and whistles).
Where do these free radicals come from? Various toxins including PCBs, certain prescription drugs, heavy metals, pesticides and a host of toxic environmental agents are known to induce this production of free radicals.
Can infection destroy hearing function? Yes, damage to the hair cells may also result from exposure to toxic bacterial, viral and parasitic metabolites resulting from infection. Many people each year suffer the ill fate of a sudden infection that destroys the hair cells and hearing function may be greatly or even totally impaired. For this reason a sound immune system is necessary to combat the ill effects of infectious disease.
Does nutrition play a role in protecting one’s hearing ability?
The importance of nutritional status and hearing function can not be underestimated. Studies in the elderly have revealed that low levels of Vitamin B12 and Folic acid in the blood stream may present predisposing factors that can lead to early degeneration of the hair cells with a resultant auditory loss.
1. Estimated Prevalence of Noise-Induced Hearing Threshold Shifts Among Children 6 to 19 Years of Age: The Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1988-1994, United States
Amanda Sue Niskar*, Stephanie M. Kieszak*, Alice E. Holmes , Emilio Esteban*, Carol Rubin*, and Debra J. Brody
2. Free Radicals and Hearing: Cause, Consequence, and Criteria
PATRICIA EVANS and BARRY HALLIWELL
3. Age-related hearing loss, vitamin B-12, and folate in elderly women: Denise K Houston, Mary Ann Johnson, Robert J Nozza, Elaine W Gunter, Kelly JShea, G Michelle Cutler and Jean T Edmonds
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