• Risk Factors for Hearing Loss

    A risk factor is something that increases your likelihood of getting a disease of condition.
    It is possible to develop hearing loss with or without the risk factors listed below. However, the more risk factors you have, the greater your likelihood of developing hearing loss. If you have a number of risk factors, ask your healthcare provider what you can do to reduce your risk.
    Risk factors for hearing loss include:
    With the natural aging process comes wear and tear on the ears that can affect the ability to hear soft sounds and understand speech at normal conversation levels. Loss of hearing from this process is called presbycusis , occurs slowly over time, and appears to run in families.
    Premature birth and low birth weight are risk factors for developing hearing loss. Low birth weight has an especially strong effect among full-term children. Total reduction in fetal growth and/or reduced growth speed increase the risk.
    There are some genetic disorders that increase the risk for hearing loss. For example, otosclerosis occurs when abnormal new bones forms in the inner ear, which then affect proper functioning of other parts of the ear. Usher syndrome is a disorder that affects both hearing and vision in children.
    Exposure to loud noise is a major cause of and risk factor for hearing loss. Loud sounds can cause damage to the hearing nerve and hair cells in the inner ear. The loss can be caused by a single exposure to loud noise, such as an explosion, or by repeated exposure to loud sounds over a period of time, such as loud machinery in a workplace or loud music.
    Loud noise can occur on the job from construction, factory, farm, or airport work, especially with the use of heavy equipment. Some recreational activities also involve loud noise that can lead to hearing loss, for example, loud music, shooting guns, and the engines of motorcycles and snowmobiles. Harmful noises in the home can come from equipment such as vacuum cleaners, gas-powered lawn mowers, and shop tools.
    Ear protection is somewhat effective in reducing the risk of hearing loss.
    Some antibiotics and chemotherapy drugs can damage the ear. Very high doses of aspirin can increase risk for temporary hearing loss or ringing in the ear.
    Decreasing or quitting smoking may prevent or delay age-related hearing loss. Smoking may act as a toxin, harm blood flow to the cochlea, or change blood consistency.
    Recurrent ear infections in childhood, especially those that are not treated properly, may cause irreversible damage to the middle ear and the cochlea and may lead to hearing impairments later in life.
    Risk for hearing loss is increased by diseases that result in blocked blood flow, including atherosclerosis , problems with blood clots, and collagen vascular diseases. Illnesses that lead to high fever, such as meningitis , may harm the cochlea. Meniere’s disease , which involves changes in the fluid in the inner ear, can lead to hearing loss.
    Radiation therapy is a common treatment for head and neck cancer. Radiation in the region of the ears can lead to damage of the inner ear and permanent hearing loss.


    Hearing impairment. DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.dynamicmedical.com/dynamed.nsf?opendatabase . Accessed August 10, 2005.

    Hearing loss. NIH SeniorHealth, National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders website. Available at: http://nihseniorhealth.gov/hearingloss/hearinglossdefined/01.html . Accessed August 10, 2005.

    Mayo Clinic website. Available at: http://www.mayoclinic.com/invoke.cfm?id=DS00172 . Accessed August 10, 2005.

    Palmer KT, Griffin MJ, Syddall HE, et al. Cigarette smoking, occupational exposure to noise, and self reported hearing difficulties. Occup Environ Med. 2004;61:340-344.

    Revision Information

  • Can we help answer your questions?

    Wellmont Nurse Connection is your resource for valuable health information any time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Speak to a Nurse any time, day or night, at (423) 723-6877 or toll-free at 1-877-230-NURSE.