What Causes Hearing Loss in Babies?

Genes. Genes are parts of your body’s cells that store instructions for the way your body grows and works. Genes are passed from parents to children. Genes may play a role in about half of the cases of hearing loss in babies and children. If you or your partner has a family history of hearing loss, you may want to speak with a genetic counselor before getting pregnant. This is a person who is trained to help you understand about how genes, birth defects and other medical conditions run in families, and how they can affect your health and your baby’s health.

There are two kinds of genetic hearing loss:

  1. Syndromic. The hearing loss happens with other birth defects, such as Pendred syndrome. Pendred syndrome affects hearing, the sense of balance and the thyroid gland (a gland in your body that makes hormones).
  2. Non-syndromic (also called isolated or undifferentiated). This is when hearing loss is the only birth defect a baby has.

Viruses and infections during pregnancy. Having these conditions during pregnancy may cause hearing loss in your baby:

  • Cytomegalovirus (also called CMV). This is a kind of herpes virus that can cause a sore throat, fever, swollen glands and fatigue (feeling tired all the time).
  • Herpes. This is a large group of viruses that can cause different kinds of diseases and health problems.
  • Rubella (also called German measles). This is an infection that causes mild flu-like symptoms and a rash on the skin.
  • Syphilis. This is a sexually transmitted disease (also called STD) that begins with a sore in the genital area.
  • Toxoplasmosis. This is an infection caused by a parasite that can cause problems like headache, fatigue or fever.

Premature birth or low birthweight. Premature birth is birth that happens too early, before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Low birthweight is when a baby is born weighing less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces.

Infections after birth. Ear infections can cause temporary hearing loss. But if your baby gets ear infections often that don’t respond to treatment, the infections can cause permanent hearing loss. Other childhood infections, such as meningitis, measles or chickenpox, also can cause hearing loss.

Other conditions after birth. These conditions also can cause hearing loss:

  • Head injuries
  • Taking some medicines, like an antibiotic called streptomycin
  • Buildup of ear wax
  • Buildup of fluid behind the eardrum
  • Ear infections that scar the ear drum
  • Objects stuck in the ear canal, like food, toys or pieces of crayon
  • Being around loud sounds, like the sounds of machines

World Hearing Day | Levels of Hearing Loss

The definition of hearing loss is not the same for everybody and the different degrees of hearing loss are divided into categories. The most common categories of hearing loss classifications are mild hearing loss, moderate hearing loss, severe hearing loss and profound hearing loss.
Mild hearing loss

What is mild hearing loss? On average, the most quiet sounds that people can hear with their better ear are between 25 and 40 dB. People who suffer from mild hearing loss have some difficulties keeping up with conversations, especially in noisy surroundings.

Moderate hearing loss

What is moderate hearing loss? On average, the most quiet sounds heard by people with their better ear are between 40 and 70 dB. People who suffer from moderate hearing loss have difficulty keeping up with conversations when not using a hearing aid.

Severe hearing loss

What is severe hearing loss? On average, the most quiet sounds heard by people with their better ear are between 70 and 95 dB. People who suffer from severe hearing loss will benefit from powerful hearing aids, but often they rely heavily on lip-reading even when they are using hearing aids. Some also use sign language.

Profound hearing loss

What is profound hearing loss? On average, the most quiet sounds heard by people with their better ear are from 95 dB or more. People who suffer from profound hearing loss are very hard of hearing and rely mostly on lip-reading, and/or sign language.

World Hearing Day | Types of Hearing Loss

In general terms, there are two types of hearing loss, conductive and sensorineural. A combination of both is also seen as a mixed hearing loss. Each is discussed below.

Conductive Hearing Loss

Conductive hearing loss is caused by any condition or disease that impedes the conveyance of sound in its mechanical form through the middle ear cavity to the inner ear. A conductive hearing loss can be the result of a blockage in the external ear canal or can be caused by any disorder that unfavorably effects the middle ear’s ability to transmit the mechanical energy to the stapes footplate. This results in reduction of one of the physical attributes of sound called intensity (loudness), so the energy reaching the inner ear is lower or less intense than that in the original stimulus. Therefore, more energy is needed for the individual with a conductive hearing loss to hear sound, but once it’s loud enough and the mechanical impediment is overcome, that ear works in a normal way. Generally, the cause of conductive hearing loss can be identified and treated resulting in a complete or partial improvement in hearing. Following the completion of medical treatment for cause of the conductive hearing loss, hearing aids are effective in correcting the remaining hearing loss.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss

The second type of hearing loss is called sensorineural hearing loss. This word can be divided into its two components – sensory and neural – to allow us more clarity in specifying the type of hearing loss. The comprehensive audiometric assessment and supplemental tests can yield the information needed to differentiate between a sensory and a neural hearing loss, although they can co-exist in the same ear. Neural hearing loss is another name for retrocochlear hearing loss.

Mixed Hearing Loss

A mixed hearing loss can be thought of as a sensorineural hearing loss with a conductive component overlaying all or part of the audiometric range tested. So, in addition to some irreversible hearing loss caused by an inner ear or auditory nerve disorder, there is also a dysfunction of the middle ear mechanism that makes the hearing worse than the sensorineural loss alone. The conductive component may be amenable to medical treatment and reversal of the associated hearing loss, but the sensorineural component will most likely be permanent. Hearing aids can be beneficial for persons with a mixed hearing loss, but caution must be exercised by the hearing care professional and patient if the conductive component is due to an active ear infection.

World Hearing Day | Ringing in the Ears

“Is it just me or do you hear a ringing sound?!”

If you often ask this question only to get a response “It’s just you,” then you probably have tinnitus.

People who have tinnitus perceive to hear sounds such as ringing, buzzing, roaring, whistling, or hissing sounds when there is actually no sound present. Tinnitus itself is not a condition. Rather, it can be a symptom of a variety of underlying conditions such as hearing loss, head trauma, physical or emotional stress, circulation disorders, ear infections, or migraines.

It can also occur as a result of the medications you are taking. Although it may be frustrating – and in some cases impossible – to find the cause of your tinnitus, there are some things you can do to manage it.

  • See your doctor and an audiologist. If you think you have tinnitus, the first thing you should do is have a medical exam to determine if an underlying condition is causing it. You should also see an audiologist for a hearing test and to get an assessment of your auditory system. Your doctor may refer to an ear, nose, and throat specialist.
  • Avoid caffeine and nicotine. These may make tinnitus worse.
  • Check your medication. Talk to your pharmacist to determine if your tinnitus might be a result of a medication you are taking. Your pharmacist or doctor may suggest changing your medication.
  • Use a hearing aid. This can be helpful for people who have hearing loss, as improved hearing of other sounds may cover up or lessen the tinnitus.
  • Use a masking technique or device. A white noise machine can produce sounds like rain or water that will suppress tinnitus. There are also devices that can produce continuous white noise to lessen the perception of the tinnitus. You could also do this yourself by focusing on a different sound such as the fan or the radio. This is especially helpful when trying to fall asleep.
  • Manage your stress. Keeping stress levels under control can prevent tinnitus from getting worse. Try deep breathing, biofeedback, yoga, or regular physical activity to reduce your stress levels.
  • Remove ear wax. Impacted ear wax can cause tinnitus or may make existing tinnitus worse. Make sure you remove ear wax safely – never use a cotton swab to remove ear wax.
  • Try alternative medicine. There is not much evidence for alternative therapies but they make work for you. These include acupuncture, hypnosis, herbs, and supplements. Talk to your doctor about these options.
  • Avoid loud noises and music. Use ear protectors when loud noise can’t be avoided. Exposure to loud noises can cause damage to the nerves in the ears over time, making tinnitus worse.
  • Join a support group or get counselling. Talking to other people who have similar experiences as you will make you feel more understood. You may also find new ways of coping with your tinnitus. A counsellor may give you techniques to deal with tinnitus as well as the anxiety, stress, and irritability that some people with tinnitus also experience.
  • Medication. Some medications can help with tinnitus symptoms. Talk to your doctor to see if medication may be appropriate for you.

World Hearing Day | Ear Health: Top 10 Things to Know

There are many things to know about your ears and how to keep them healthy, but here are the big 10.

1. Not all ear infections need an antibiotic.

Sometimes when we hear the word “infection,” we automatically think of antibiotics. But antibiotics are only effective against bacteria. If an ear infection is caused by a virus or a fungus, then antibiotics won’t help anyway.

Mild outer ear infections do not always need an antibiotic, but many will require antibiotic eardrops. Most middle ear infection are caused by a virus and usually don’t call for antibiotics. Inner ear infections often don’t require antibiotics either, unless they are clearly linked to a bacterial infection.

2. Ear infections are more common in children.

Middle ear infections are more common in children ages 6 months to 3 years because their eustachian tubes are small. Outer ear infections are more common in children ages 7 to 12.

3. Many ear infections are painful.

Ear infections can be painful. If you or your child has an ear infection and are in pain, use over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. It’s best to talk to your pharmacist or doctor about which pain reliever is best for you or your child.

4. Swimmer’s ear isn’t always caused by swimming.

Outer ear infections are often referred to as swimmer’s ear because kids tend to get the infections when they swim a lot. But outer ear infections can also be caused by other foreign material (e.g., hairspray, sand) or liquids getting into the ear.

5. Never, ever, stick anything in your ear.

So, you have an itch, and you want to get the wax out of yours ears? Don’t stick a cotton swab in your ear! Your ear actually cleans itself, and sticking anything in can push earwax further into your ear or cause damage to your ear.

6. You can do a lot to prevent hearing loss.

Most of us love listening to music. And we listen to more of it than ever thanks to our personal music devices. Unfortunately, this listening can take a toll on our ears, especially if we listen to music too loudly. Save your hearing by keeping the volume down and wearing protective devices when you’re exposed to loud noise for long periods of time.

7. We lose our hearing as we age.

As we age, we lose the function of the hair cells in our inner ear that play a critical role in hearing. Age-related hearing loss is also called presbycusis, and genetics seems to play a role in how quickly or early hearing is lost.

8. Hearing loss or deafness is common.

It might be hard to believe, but in fact, one out of every 10 Canadians has hearing loss. Although hearing loss is more common as we age – more than half of Canadians over 65 years of age have some degree of hearing loss – it can happen at any age. Causes of hearing loss include ear infections, structural ear problems, trauma, and – rarely – tumours. Some hearing loss is caused by infections, such as mumps, meningitis, or rubella.

9. There have been huge advancements in assistive hearing technology.

For people who need assistive hearing devices, there have been tremendous advancements in technology. Today, hearing aids are much smaller and are programmable. Programming allows the hearing aid to be much more effective in different situations, especially noisy environments. And if hearing aids aren’t helping, cochlear implants are an option. Light-alerting systems and assistive devices for the phone can also help people with hearing loss.

10. Hearing loss can be mild or gradual and you may not notice it.

Although some hearing loss can be severe and occur suddenly, hearing loss can also be mild and occur gradually. Your friends and family might be the first to notice. If they do, take their comments to heart and have your hearing checked. If you notice that you need to increase the volume on the radio or TV, or you are having a hard time following conversations, it could mean your hearing is starting to go. Again, it’s important to have your hearing checked if this is the case.