Hearing disorders affect nearly 30 million people in the United States. In addition to causing problems with hearing, some hearing disorders can also cause other problems, especially difficulty maintaining balance and proper equilibrium. Hearing disorders affect people from all age groups. According to research, the loss of hearing commonly associated with old age is now occurring among a considerable portion of the overall U.S. population. Sixty percent of men and women in their late teens and early 20s, for example, have been found with a diminished capacity to hear sounds in the upper-frequency range, a statistic that was unheard of just a few generations ago. Practitioners of holistic and alternative medicine attribute the increase in hearing disorders in the U.S. and other industrialized countries to various aspects of our modern lifestyle, such as the excessive use of pharmaceutical medications, food allergies, environmental toxins, and modern technologies such as earphones, iPods, etc.
Symptoms & Other Hearing Disorders
Symptoms of hearing disorders vary according to the nature of the disorder, but can include an earache, ear pain, inflammation of or stuffiness inside the ear, and tinnitus (ringing in the ears). Other symptoms include balance problems such as dizziness and vertigo, hearing loss, and nerve damage within the ears. What follows are overviews of the most common types of hearing disorders as well as their specific symptoms.
Ear Pain: Ear pain, also known as an earache, is characterized by pain in the middle ear, usually due to fluid or wax buildup and their resulting pressure that impinges upon the Eustachian tube. Narrowing of the Eustachian tube can eventually hinder the proper flow of ear fluid, setting the stage for bacterial infection. When infection occurs it can lead to a temporary condition of diminished hearing, as well as additional ear pain and fever.
Hearing Loss: There are two types of hearing loss—conductive and sensory. Conductive hearing loss is associated with a loss of hearing in the outer and/or middle ear while a sensory hearing loss is due to problems in the inner hear, particularly damage to or deterioration of the cochlea or the loss of cells in the inner air that transmit sound to the nerves of the ear. Both types of hearing loss can be sudden or develop over time. In some cases, conductive hearing loss can also be recurring, usually due to chronic ear infections or trauma.
Caution: All forms of hearing loss require immediate medical attention.
Meniere’s Disease: Meniere’s disease is a serious hearing disorder characterized by balance problems, dizziness, vertigo, and in many cases partial hearing loss. Meniere’s Disease is known to also cause nausea, vomiting, and sudden, sometimes violent, flare-ups of symptoms that can last from five or ten minutes to several hours. The hearing is lost following each attack; it returns, but a little less every time. As this pattern continues, episodes of Meniere’s disease tend to be less frequent and can cease altogether once the loss of hearing is complete.
Otitis Media: Otitis media, the number one cause of hearing loss among children, affects the middle ear. Each year in the United States, $2 billion is spent on drug treatments and surgery for otitis media, which unfortunately never addresses the root causes of the condition. The primary surgery for otitis media, which is administered to one million children in the U.S. each year, involves inserting tubes through the tympanic membranes of the ears to improve drainage of ear fluid. Not only does this procedure often not work, it can also significantly increase the risk of ear infections, leading to a worsening of hearing problems and the need for additional surgeries and/or antibiotic medications.
Symptoms often include an earache, ear pain, and impaired hearing, as well as allergy, chills, fever, infection of the upper respiratory tract, irritability, and swelling and inflammation of the middle ear and eardrum. Otitis media can either be acute or chronic.
Caution: Left untreated, cases of chronic otitis media related to infection of the middle ear can lead to meningitis, a dangerous health condition that affects the membranes of the brain and spinal cord.
Tinnitus: Tinnitus is a hearing disorder that is primarily characterized by continuous ringing and/or hissing sounds in the ear that can sometimes be accompanied by an earache or ear pain. In some cases, dizziness and vertigo can also occur.
Caution: People suffering from tinnitus should seek medical attention to determine if their condition is due to anemia, heart disease (arteriosclerosis), and/or high blood pressure.
Among the most common causes of hearing disorders are allergies, antibiotic and other medication use, the buildup of earwax, infection and inflammation, and chronic exposure to loud noises.
Allergies: Both food and environmental sensitivities can cause or exacerbate hearing disorders, and are especially connected to the increased incidence of otitis media over the last few decades. Common foods that can trigger allergenic responses include milk and dairy products, corn, chocolate, sugar, wheat and wheat byproducts; whereas common environmental triggers include animal dander, dust, and mold, especially in the bedroom. Other allergy related conditions, such as asthma, eczema, hay fever, and hives, may also be associated with hearing disorders. Allergenic substances negatively impact the ear by increasing the risk of infection and causing swelling and inflammation.
Antibiotics and Other Drugs: The overuse of antibiotics and other medication is also associated with the rise of hearing disorders. This is particularly true of otitis media, which is commonly treated with antibiotics prescribed by conventional physicians. In fact, over 40 percent of all antibiotic prescriptions for children in the U.S. are made in order to treat otitis media. However, research has found that, while antibiotics can be necessary for a few cases of otitis media, nearly 90 percent of antibiotic use is unwarranted. In addition, the use of antibiotics for otitis media has been shown to increase the incidence and frequency of recurring otitis media episodes.
Similar negative side effects have been shown to occur in children who are prescribed antibiotics for a chronic earache and ear pain. Not only have antibiotics been found to be no better than placebo for treating ear pain in children, they have also been shown to increase the risk of the excessive ear fluid that is associated with recurring episodes of earache, as well as ear infections.
The late William Crook, MD, author of The Yeast Connection, also found that antibiotic use leads to candidiasis (systemic yeast overgrowth) and suppresses the immune system. As a result, a vicious cycle is set up in which antibiotics used to treat ear and hearing conditions leads to immune suppression and candidiasis, which in turn leads to further bouts of hearing disorders.
Alternative and holistic physicians, recognizing the dangers of antibiotic use, will only consider antibiotics for ear infections that have spread either to the mastoid bone behind the ear or into the membranes known as the meninges that cover the brain and spinal cord.
Other pharmaceutical medications can also cause or exacerbate hearing disorders, including aspirin and diuretic drugs used to treat conditions of water retention, such as edema. Chemotherapy can also cause hearing problems, in addition to many other serious side effects.
Excessive Earwax Buildup: Although a certain amount of earwax buildup inside the ear is normal and necessary for keeping the ear canal clean and moist, excessive wax buildup can lead to a host of hearing problems, include an earache and ear pain, hearing loss, ear infections, inflammation, and dizziness. Food and environmental allergies often play a role in earwax buildup, as does poor hygiene and failure to properly clean the ears on a regular basis using cotton swabs. Antibiotics can also play a role.
Infection and Inflammation: Both infection and inflammation are frequently involved in hearing disorders. Infections can occur as a result of the use of pharmaceutical medications, swimming, and/or bathing and showering in unclean water or water that contains high amounts of chlorine, and exposure to bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Infections related to hearing problems can also be due to pre-existing health conditions, including allergies, cancer, candidiasis, diabetes, and other chronic immune conditions. Inflammation of the ear can occur as a result of physical trauma to the ear, as well as the inappropriate use of cotton swabs for ear cleaning and objects placed in the ear (a fairly common occurrence among young children).
Loud Noise: An estimated 33 percent of all hearing disorders are primarily due to exposure to loud noise (any sound over a decibel level of 80 to 85). In some cases, noise can cause permanent deafness. Sources of loud noise include airplanes, especially during takeoff; heavy construction and jackhammer use; regular attendance of hip hop, rap, rock, and heavy metal concerts (as well as playing in bands that perform such music); and listening to music played loud over stereos, Walkmans, MP3 players, and iPods (using headphones for this purpose can significantly increase the risk of hearing disorders, as well as increase ear infections). Loud noise, particularly if it is sudden and unexpected, can cause instant damage to the ear, impairing hearing by tearing the tissues of the inner ear.
Note: If you work in a loud or noisy environment consider the use of ear plugs or ear muffs, which must be provided by your employer according to federal regulations.
Other Causes of Hearing Disorders: Other possible causes of hearing disorders include perforation of any part of the middle or inner ear, smoking (due to how nicotine impairs circulation), swimming regularly in chlorinated pools (swimmer’s ear), autoimmune and metabolic health conditions, benign tumors, and vascular damage. Chronic dehydration can also cause or worsen hearing disorders, as can early bottle-feeding of infants in place of breastfeeding. Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) syndrome can also be a factor.