Hearing loss is much more than the sum of its parts. It’s not just an annoyance, or even a safety hazard; the diminishment of sound can wear away at a person’s self-confidence, their sense of being a part of the community and the larger world … ultimately, it can lead to social isolation and depression.

Factors that may lead to hearing problems include:

  • Aging. Exposure to sounds over the years can damage the cells of your inner ear.
  • Heredity. Your genetic makeup may make you more susceptible to ear damage.
  • Occupational noises. Jobs where loud noise is a regular part of the working environment, such as farming, construction or factory work, can lead to damage inside your ear.
  • Recreational noises. Exposure to explosive noises, such as from firearms and fireworks, can cause immediate, permanent hearing loss. Other recreational activities with dangerously high noise levels include snowmobiling, motorcycling or listening to loud music. Personal music players, such as MP3 players, can cause lasting hearing loss if you turn the volume up high enough to mask the sound of other loud noises, such as those from a lawn mower.
  • Some medications. Drugs, such as the antibiotic gentamicin and certain chemotherapy drugs, can damage the inner ear. Temporary effects on your hearing — ringing in the ear (tinnitus) or hearing loss — can occur if you take very high doses of aspirin, other pain relievers, antimalarial drugs or loop diuretics.
  • Some illnesses. Diseases or illnesses that result in high fever, such as meningitis, may damage the cochlea.

If you suspect that your hearing isn’t quite what it used to be, here is a simple self-assessment you can take at home. If you answer yes to more than two of the following questions, you should have your hearing evaluated further by a health-care professional.

  1. Do you have a problem hearing over the telephone?
  2. Do you have trouble following the conversation with two or more people talking at the same time?
  3. Do people complain that you turn the TV volume up too high?
  4. Do you have to strain to understand conversation?
  5. Do you have trouble hearing in a noisy background?
  6. Do you find yourself asking people to repeat themselves?
  7. Do family members or coworkers remark about your missing what has been said?
  8. Do many people you talk to seem to mumble (or not speak clearly)?
  9. Do you have trouble understanding the speech of women and children?
  10. Do people get annoyed because you misunderstand what they say?

Have you had to deal with hearing loss in a loved one?

www.mayoclinic.org: Age-related hearing loss
www.betterhearing.org: Hearing loss prevention