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March 20, 2018  |  Login
Hearing Loss
by James F. Balch, M.D. and Mark Stengler, N.D.

Hearing loss is always a disturbing problem, but it's one that too often goes untreated. Many people who experience diminished hearing simply accept it as an unfortunate but normal part of life. While it's true that for some people, age-related hearing loss is unavoidable, the progression of many cases can be halted, significantly slowed, or even reversed with proper diagnosis and treatment. And with good nutrition and ear care, it's often quite possible to prevent hearing loss in the first place.

Hearing is a complex combination of many processes in the ear, the nerves, and the brain, and any disruption of these functions can lead to partial or complete deafness. Nevertheless, hearing problems can generally be categorized according to one of two types: conductive and sensorineural. Conductive hearing loss, which is caused by mechanical problems in the ear's structures, is by far the more common of the two. Although its tendency to come on suddenly can be frightening, it can often be resolved.

The most frequent cause of conductive hearing impairment is a buildup of wax in the ear canal. Normally, wax (or cerumen, to use its medical name) lines the ear canal and serves as a lubricant. When too much wax accumulates, it can block the canal and can lead to hearing loss, as well as to pain and ringing in the ears. A middle-ear infection can also cause a blockage, especially if the infected fluid remains in the ear for a long time and coagulates around the small bones (ossicles) that are responsible for transmitting sound waves. Ear infections and excessive ear wax are both readily treatable, often with home care, and several highly effective nutritional strategies can prevent the problem from recurring.

In some instances, conductive hearing damage is more serious. If you suffer hearing loss after a fall or a blow to the ear or the head, or if you experience a sudden, intense pain in your ear, see your doctor at once. You may have a ruptured ear drum or damage to the hearing sensor, called the organ of Corti. Even innocuous-looking cotton swabs can cause grave damage, including ruptures, when inserted deep into the ear canal. Some drugs can also affect the organ of Corti, so talk to your doctor if you experience hearing loss after starting a new prescription drug. Finally, some conductive hearing damage may simply be a part of aging As the body gets older, the eardrum can thicken and other ear structures may grow weak, leading to partial loss of hearing. More than 40 percent of people seventy-five and older experience some degree of hearing problems.

Sensorineural hearing damage affects the nerves that receive sound waves and transmit their impulses through the ear and to the brain, where the impulses are registered as the sensory perception of sound. Almost all sensorineural hearing damage is due to high levels of noise. Loud concerts and stereos turned up to full volume may be the most obvious source of excessive noise, but sirens, airplanes, trains, jackhammers, and construction sounds are common culprits as well.

Every time you're exposed to a loud noise, your auditory nerves are damaged; a lifetime of noises can add up to permanent hearing loss. In some cases, sensorineural hearing problems are caused by other disorders, including diabetes, arteriosclerosis, lupus, and hypothyroidism And again, sometimes nerves simply weaken with age and lose their ability to conduct sound effectively. However, recent research has shown that loud noises form free radicals that damage the inner ear. Antioxidants such as vitamin E, zinc, NAC, magnesium, and vitamin A appear to protect against this cause of damage, although they have not been shown to reverse hearing loss. In some cases, tumor growths on the nerves involved with hearing are responsible for the hearing loss. more

Next: What are the Symptoms of Hearing Loss

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