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Hearing Loss

What Other Conditions Can Cause Hearing Loss?

Last modified: 
29/03/2012 - 21:08

Contributing Author: Guy Slowik FRCS

A number of other problems can cause hearing loss, particularly sensorineural hearing loss. Many of them are very common conditions that are not always associated with hearing loss. They include:

Common Childhood Infections

Mumps is the most common cause of one-sided total deafness in the United States. Frequently, the child and family are not aware of the hearing loss until years later. Other childhood infections, such as scarlet fever, may also affect hearing, particularly by destroying the eardrum and damaging the middle ear bones.

Special Infections

Many infections can result in hearing loss, including:

  • Syphilis. It can be acquired at birth or through sexual contact, and a person may have it a long time before hearing symptoms occur (sometimes for 30 or more years). Caught early, this form of hearing loss can be cured. However, if it is not recognized and treated, the hearing loss may progress and even become total.
  • Lyme disease. This increasingly common infection is spread through the bite of a tick. Lyme disease often causes a rash and joint pain, but these may be minor enough to escape notice. A diagnosis of Lyme disease can be made with blood tests. It is treated with antibiotics.
  • Numerous other infections including herpes, cytomegalo virus (CMV), measles, mononucleosis, chickenpox, pneumonia, flu, and fungal diseases may cause hearing problems as well.

Problems With Blood Flow

Insufficient blood flow in the inner ear or related areas of the brain can contribute to hearing loss. This can happen as a result of cardiovascular disease, untreated high blood pressure, and other similar conditions. It also may be present in people whose blood tends to sludge and clot excessively (hypercoagulability), or who have too many blood cells (polycythemia).

Meningitis

Hearing loss is one of the most common consequences of meningitis, especially bacterial or fungal meningitis. Meningitis is an infection of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. Anyone who has had meningitis should have a hearing test upon recovery.

For more information about meningitis, go to Meningitis.

AIDS

AIDS is associated with ear infections and nerve damage. Conductive and sensorineural hearing loss both occur in people with AIDS. AIDS is also associated with tumors in the head and neck that can cause hearing loss.

For more information about AIDS, go to AIDS: What is it?.

Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis and other similar illnesses have been associated with hearing loss. The problem may be due to the disease itself or to the medications used to treat the disease (such as streptomycin). Despite the availability of vaccines for tuberculosis, it is becoming increasingly common, especially among people with AIDS and those who come in contact with them.

Arthritis

Arthritis (inflammation of joints) and vasculitis (inflammation of blood vessels) commonly are associated with hearing loss. These include conditions such as rheumatoid arthritislupus erythematosus, and others. The hearing problem is probably related to abnormalities in blood vessels from these diseases.

Allergies

It is well recognized that allergic problems in children cause fluid to collect in the eustachian tubes and middle ear. However, in some cases allergies may also cause inner ear problems such as Meniere's syndrome. Allergy treatments usually resolve the problem.

High Blood Pressure

Some conditions associated with high blood pressure (such as hypolipoproteinemia, which is extremely high cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood) are also associated with hearing loss. In general, it appears that people with high blood pressure have a higher incidence of hearing loss. They may also be more prone to noise induced hearing loss than others.

For more information about high blood pressure, go to High Blood Pressure.

Thyroid Problems

Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) is commonly linked with hearing loss. About half of people with low thyroid function have hearing losses. Moreover, about 3% of people with Meniere's syndrome have hypothyroidism; and in some, control of the thyroid disease eliminates the symptoms of Meniere's syndrome.

For more information about hypothyroidism, go to Hypothyroidism.

Kidney Disease

Many of the things that damage the kidney also damage the cochlea   A hollow tube in the inner ear that is coiled to resemble a snail's shell; it contains thin fluid and the organ of Corti, and it is where sound vibrations picked up by the middle ear are carried in the inner ear. Parts of the kidney and cochlea are quite similar and can be damaged by the same drugs, for example. Hearing loss is not uncommon in people with kidney disease.

Cancer

Cancers that involve the ear and the brain can cause hearing loss. However, cancers elsewhere may also be related, particularly because many of the treatments for cancer produce hearing loss. Chemotherapy agents can affect the ear. Radiation may also cause hearing loss if the ear is included in the radiation field. Individuals who receive chemotherapy or radiation therapy should have an audiogram (hearing test) before treatment is begun, and usually during and after treatment.

Diabetes

Diabetes is one of the most common diseases in the United States. Although estimates vary from study to study, it appears that about 40 percent of people with diabetes have hearing loss. It usually occurs in both ears and is most severe in the high frequencies. However, Meniere's syndrome may also be caused by diabetes, and sudden deafness can occur.

For more information about diabetes, go to Diabetes In Adults.

Glaucoma

The relationship has been controversial, but it is probable that there is a significantly increased incidence of hearing loss in people with glaucoma, a condition in which there is high pressure within the eye. This is especially true for people with a type of glaucoma called narrow-angle glaucoma.

For more information about glaucoma, go to Glaucoma.

Sickle Cell Disease

About seven percent to nine percent of black Americans carry the sickle cell trait. About 1 in 400 has sickle cell disease, and 20 percent to 25 percent of people with sickle cell disease have sensorineural hearing loss. Sudden deafness has also been reported in connection with this condition, although in some cases hearing will return.

Fainting Disorders

A person who has hearing loss (often severe) along with fainting may have a condition called Jervell and Lange-Nielson syndrome. This hereditary condition accounts for approximately 1% of all cases of hereditary deafness. If hearing loss and fainting occur together, a person's heart should be checked immediately. The fainting can be due to heart arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats) that may cause sudden death.

Tinnitus And Dizziness

Tinnitus (ear noises) and dizziness commonly occur in association with hearing loss. In some cases, both of these symptoms can be effectively treated.

For more information about tinnitus, go to Tinnitus.

Hereditary Diseases And Syndromes

There are many hereditary diseases and syndromes that can lead to hearing loss. The syndromes involve defects in virtually any part of the body. Hearing loss is often hereditary.

  • When it runs in families from generation to generation, the hearing loss usually follows a hereditary pattern called "autosomal dominant."
  • However, the absence of a family history does not mean that hearing loss is not genetic. "Autosomal recessive" inheritance is common. It means that neither parent has hearing loss, but both carry a gene that causes it. On the average, the hearing loss will be present in one child out of four.
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From Andrew Maynard - Chair of the University of Michigan Department of Environmental Health Sciences, with help from David Faulkner - 2013 Master of Public Health graduate.