People of all ages can suffer from hearing loss or hearing disorders. Most types of hearing disorders are caused by overexposure to excessively loud noises, aging, and genetic predispositions to ear problems. Other types can result from wax buildup, a ruptured eardrum, or a severe ear infection such as otitis media. An individual who experiences problems hearing should consult a doctor, who can diagnose the condition and prescribe the appropriate medication, provide hearing aids, or offer advice on preventing future problems.
The inner ear contains a tiny structure known as the cochlea, which receives sound vibrations and transmits them to the brain as electrical impulses. When nerve endings in the cochlea become damaged, sounds become more difficult to hear clearly. Many different factors can contribute to cochlear damage, such as working in a noisy atmosphere for several years, having a family history of ear problems, and simply getting older. The cochlea is not usually able to repair itself, and without medical attention, hearing disorders typically get worse over time.
Occasionally, people have difficulty hearing because of excessive buildup of wax in their inner ears. Earwax buildup typically results from improper or infrequent cleaning of the ears, though some individuals are genetically inclined to produce more of the substance than average. Doctors are usually able to soften and remove excess earwax quickly and painlessly using specialized tools. Most patients experience immediate relief from their hearing troubles after treatment.
Some types of ear infections can cause potentially serious hearing disorders, especially in children. Otitis media is a common middle ear infection that causes inflammation, redness, and irritation. Many people with otitis media report symptoms of pain, itchiness, fluid drainage, and difficulty hearing quiet sounds. Severe cases of otitis media and other infections can rupture a person's eardrums, leading to intense pain, dizziness, nausea, temporary hearing loss, and ringing in the ears. Luckily, infections can be treated with medications as prescribed by a doctor, and ruptured eardrums generally heal themselves in one to three weeks.
Most hearing disorders cannot be corrected, though doctors and audiologists can help patients better manage their hearing and prevent further loss. Individuals with damaged cochleas are commonly fitted with hearing aids that amplify sounds inside the ear to an appropriate volume. People with severe ear damage may be given cochlear implants, electronic mechanisms that help to pick up and transmit signals to the brain. Doctors commonly advise people to avoid noisy situations and use earplugs to decrease the chances of developing additional problems.