Hearing loss is a progressive condition that develops over time. But what actually causes it? Several factors influence the development and severity of hearing loss. Some of them are inevitable, but many are modifiable, meaning that you can change your behavior to reduce your risk.


As people age, the tissues in the ear start to lose their functionality naturally. Damage to the small hair-like receptors in the middle ear, for instance, can make it difficult to hear high-pitch noises or focus on somebody’s voice in a conversation. Similarly, loss of blood flow to the ear can also be a factor, as well as the aging brain and neurons sending sound signals to it. 

Ultimately, there’s not a great deal that you can do about aging. However, people who maintain healthy lifestyles may be able to delay deterioration of the ear, or experience none at all. 

Loud Sounds 

Loud sounds in the environment are the leading modifiable cause of hearing loss. Excess sound energy entering the ear causes physical damage to the sound-sensing structures over time, leading to hearing loss.

Hearing health professionals identify many sources of hearing loss due to loud sounds: 

  • Listening to music too loudly through headphones
  • Regularly going to clubs and other venues that play music above the safe threshold (around 85 dB)
  • Working with noisy machinery without using hearing protection equipment, such as ear muffs and earbuds
  • Experiencing a sudden loud sound, such as somebody shouting in your ear or standing next to a jet engine

Where possible, try to avoid loud sounds. If you know that you are going to be in a loud environment, you can mitigate the noise by wearing earbuds. You can also avoid turning up your earphones too high. If you want to cancel out external noises, use noise-cancelling products that allow you to listen at a lower volume. 

Earwax Buildup

Excessive earwax in the ear canal can also affect your hearing, making sounds dull and muted. For the ear to work, the eardrum needs to be able to transmit sound vibrations to the machinery of the inner ear. But if there’s wax in the canal leading up to it, then less sound energy will reach it. Compacted wax right up against the drum can stop it vibrating altogether, making it hard to hear anything at all. 

Dealing with earwax is relatively simple. The first line of treatment is over-the-counter ear drops. These dissolve the wax and allow it to exit the ear naturally. The next option is to get a specialist to remove it with tools safety. Don’t put any objects in your ear to try to remove it. You could compact it further or damage your eardrum. 

Illnesses and Drugs

Lastly, there are also some illnesses and drugs that may lead to hearing loss. Meningitis, for instance, damages the cochlear – an important part of the inner ear that sends signals to the brain. Drugs, such as sildenafil and chemotherapy can also affect hearing or lead to ringing in the ears (tinnitus).