What are the Common Causes of Hearing Loss as We Age?

Bellman and Symfon assistive technology for the hard of hearing

Hearing loss is divided into two categories: conductive and sensorineural. Conductive hearing loss occurs when sound cannot get from the outer ear into the middle ear due to damage or blockage. Sensorineural hearing loss is when sound cannot be transmitted from the inner ear to the brain.

Conductive Hearing Loss

Conductive hearing loss results from a blockage that restricts sound impulses from reaching the inner ear. Congestion from a cold, an ear infection, swimmer's ear are all examples of this hearing loss. Symptoms include muffled hearing, sudden or steady loss of hearing, a "stuffy" sensation in the ear, dizziness, drainage from the ear, pain or tenderness in the ear. It may impact only one ear at a time. After the issue causing the hearing loss is resolved, the hearing returns to normal.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Sensorineural hearing loss, which involves damage to the inner ear, is more devastating. The tiny hair cells in the inner ear become damaged due to exposure to loud noises without protection. As a result, higher-pitched sounds and the inability to pick out words from background noise are the most common complaints. This type of hearing loss is often seen in older people from a lifetime of exposure to loud sounds. Hearing loss, in this case, is permanent.

Common Causes of Conductive Hearing Loss

Earwax Buildup

This waxy material, generated by glands in the outer ear canal, keeps germs, dust, and debris from the eardrum. When there isn't enough wax in the ears, they become dry, itchy, and a breeding ground for infection, but excessive earwax might cause earaches and hearing loss. Do not use cotton swabs in the ear canal - these often push earwax deeper into the ear, exacerbating the problem. Excessive earwax can be treated at home (ask your pharmacist to recommend a product) or in a doctor's office.

Perforated Eardrum

Infection, loud noises near the ear, rapid changes in air pressure, or probing with a cotton swab can pierce the thin tissue that divides the outer and middle ear, causing discomfort and temporary hearing loss. Although a perforated eardrum generally heals on its own after two months, it's best to get it examined by an otolaryngologist, a doctor who specializes in ear, nose, and throat problems.

Common Causes of Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Listening to Music with Earbuds

Because earbuds don't filter out outside noise, users turn up the volume often for hours. However, these devices successfully amplify noises to the maximum levels, high enough to inflict non-reversible harm in as little as 15 minutes. Therefore, people should use headphones that include volume control. As a general rule, the music is too loud if the person sitting next to you can hear the music.

Exposure to Loud Noise

Just like music, loud noise at work or home can damage your hearing or cause tinnitus in just a few minutes. Therefore, make sure that you wear protective earmuffs when working with heavy-duty machines, leaf blowers, etc.


People with diabetes are twice as likely as those with normal blood sugar levels to have hearing loss. High glucose levels are linked to heart disease, and experts believe the same damaging effect occurs in the inner ear's neurons and blood vessels. A person with diabetes should get their hearing tested by an ear, nose, and throat doctor or an audiologist.

Other Medical Reason

However, there can also be other reasons for losing one's hearing. If you are not sure what has caused your hearing loss, it is always best to seek advice from an otolaryngologist.

Bellman & Symfon

Are you experiencing hearing loss? Bellman & Symfon can help. We specialize in assistive technology for the hearing impaired. For more information, contact us at 910-239-5796.