Hearing management

13 December 2017

7 diseases that can cause hearing loss

Hearing loss can be genetic or caused by damage to the ear – but did you know that there are also some diseases that can cause hearing loss?

We tend to associate hearing loss with ageing or something caused by genetic predisposition. Disease can however also lead to hearing loss.

In fact, anything that leads to damage of the complicated structure of the ear can lead to deafness.

1. Otosclerosis

What it is: Otosclerosis refers to abnormal bone growth in the ears. It is often genetic and can cause a gradual onset of hearing loss. This is a relatively common cause of hearing loss. 

Symptoms: Symptoms can include dizziness, a ringing in one or both ears and gradual hearing loss. 

How it leads to hearing loss: The abnormal growth of bone within the inner ear interferes with the movement of the bones and makes it difficult for sound waves to be transmitted.

Treatment: There are a couple of methods doctors use for otosclerosis. A surgical procedure called stapedectomy, as well as a cochlear implant may help reverse hearing loss. 

2. Ménière’s disease

What it is: Ménière’s disease is an illness that interferes with the flow of fluid in the inner ear.

Symptoms: A loss of balance, a feeling of fullness in one or both ears, dizziness, nausea and ringing in the ear.

How it leads to hearing loss: Hearing loss is caused by an extreme buildup of fluid in the ear. The buildup occurs in the part of the ear that is called the labyrinth – leading to disturbed balance and distorted sound waves.

Treatment: Doctors may prescribe medication such as prochlorperazine and antihistamines to help control symptoms.

diagram of ear anatomy

                                     The ear is a complicated structure that can be affected by several diseases.

3. Usher’s syndrome  

What it is: Usher’s syndrome is a genetic disease that can cause both hearing and vision loss. 

Symptoms: Usher’s syndrome is divided into three types – children with type 1 are born deaf; children with type 2 are born with moderate hearing loss; and children with type 3 are born with normal hearing, which however decreases gradually over a period of time.

How it leads to hearing loss: Usher’s disease causes abnormalities in the ears, which leads to hearing loss.

Treatment: Unfortunately there is currently no treatment for Usher’s syndrome. Treatment for hearing loss includes hearing aids and cochlear implants.

4. Acoustic neuroma

What it is: Acoustic neuroma is a rare disease that involves a non-cancerous tumour, growing directly on the nerve responsible for hearing and balance. It is caused by regular exposure to loud noise or radiation in the facial area.

Symptoms: Symptoms usually include hearing loss and a feeling of fullness in one ear, dizziness, a loss of balance, headaches and facial numbness or tingling.

How it leads to hearing loss: The tumour grows right on the eighth cranial nerve.

Treatment: In severe cases brain surgery is required to remove the tumour.

boy with mumps

5. Mumps

What it is: Mumps is a viral infection, especially common in children. This disease causes the salivary glands to become inflamed, leading to swollen cheeks.

Symptoms: Besides the swollen glands and cheeks, other symptoms include a fever, headaches and a general feeling of discomfort.  

How it leads to hearing loss: Hearing loss is one of the side-effects caused by mumps. The mumps virus damages the cochlea in the inner ear. This part of the ear contains the hair cells which turn sound vibrations into nerve impulses that the brain reads as sound. Hearing loss because of mumps is fortunately rare. 

Treatment: There are no drugs available to treat the mumps virus itself, but mumps can be prevented by vaccination. Treatment is symptomatic. Hearing aids or cochlear implants can help mild hearing loss.

6. German measles

What it is: German measles, caused by the rubella virus, is a common childhood illness can also occur in adults.

Symptoms: Although it is possible to have German measles without showing any symptoms, a pinkish raised rash is often present. Other symptoms include a fever, aching joints, swollen lymph nodes and conjunctivitis.

How it leads to hearing loss: German measles in early pregnancy can cause the baby to be born with abnormalities, especially deafness as a result of nerve damage.

Treatment: There is no specific cure for German measles and treatment is symptomatic. If you're pregnant, you should be extra careful of German measles and should take note of any outbreak in your area for the sake of your unborn baby. You can be vaccinated against German measles and there is a booster shot available if you wish to fall pregnant. 

7. Paget's disease 

What it is: According to a previous Health24 article, Paget's disease is a localised disease where there is an increase in bone resorption followed by abundant new bone formation. This new bone has a weak structure. 

Symptoms: The weakened bone structure causes problems such as bone deformities and easy fractures. In some cases there are no symptoms, but symptoms can include bone pain and stiff joints.

How it leads to hearing loss: While the prognosis for Paget's disease is good and it can be kept under control, hearing loss can be a side-effect. There are several reasons for hearing loss; examples are destruction of the hair cells that transmit sound, and the stretching of the auditory nerve. 

Treatment: Paget's disease is treated with anti-inflammatories. 

Image credits: iStock


Ask the Expert

Hearing Expert

Minette Lister graduated with a Bachelor of Communication Pathology (Audiology) from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Westville in 2015. Thereafter, she completed her compulsory year of community service at Phoenix Assessment and Therapy Centre in Durban. In 2017, Minette started working for Thompson and Hoffman Audiology Inc. She is passionate about working with children and adults to diagnose and manage hearing loss using state of the art technology. Minette offers hearing screening programmes for newborn and high-risk babies, as well as school-aged children, in order to decrease the incidence of late or unidentified hearing loss.

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