Injury of the outer ear

Your outer ear consists of the pinna or auricle (the visible part on the side of your head and the ear canal). The pinna catches sounds from the air and funnels it further into the ear. Any injury that damages your outer ear, such as a severe burn that requires amputation of the pinna, is likely to affect sound intake.

Blockage of the ear canal

The ear canal can become blocked due to intrusion by a foreign object (particles of food, toy parts, or insects) or from excess cerumen (earwax) buildup. Never try to remove anything lodged in your ear with a cotton swab or similar device! Seek help from a medical or hearing care professional to avoid further damage – especially puncturing your eardrum.

Infections of the outer or middle ear

These ear infections are particularly common in babies who nurse from bottles lying flat on their backs, allowing milk or formula to back up into the Eustachian tube, enter the middle ear, and cause infections. Ear infections are not just for kids – anyone can get an ear infection. Never ignore an ear infection. If not treated promptly, an ear infection can lead to permanent hearing loss or worse.

Perforation of the eardrum

The tympanic membrane (eardrum) is a major component of your hearing system, which vibrates in response to sounds conducted down the ear canal from the pinna. If it cannot vibrate, sound cannot travel properly into the middle ear. As mentioned above, keep foreign objects out of your ear canal, because the eardrum is not as deeply set in your ear canal as you may think. Trying to clean out earwax is an unfortunately common cause of conductive hearing loss – and one of the most easily avoided.

Congenital deformities

Some people are born with deformities (usually the result of genetics) that may cause malformation or absence of vital hearing systems, such as the ear canal or other structures.

When it comes to sensorineural hearing loss, damage to the inner ear or along the auditory pathway from the inner ear prevents sound from reaching the brain. Again, there are many possible causes.

Birth injuries and hereditary conditions

Premature birth resulting in developmental issues or a complicated birth involving atoxia (lack of oxygen to the brain) may cause or contribute to hearing loss. Hereditary conditions, including genetic syndromes such as Down’s syndrome, Waardenburg syndrome, Treacher-Collins syndrome, and Neurofibromatosis (Type II), are linked to hearing loss and deafness.

Illnesses, injuries, and infections

Ear infections can damage the workings of your inner ear just as they do the outer and middle. Diseases that affect multiple body systems, such as meningitis, rubella (German measles), and other viruses can wreak havoc on your hearing or, if you are pregnant when infected, your unborn baby’s developing ears. Hearing loss may also be symptomatic of a tumor. Another less common cause of hearing loss is injury, such as traumatic brain injury (TBI) and other head injuries.


Some prescription medications intended to fight illnesses can damage hearing. Ototoxic medications are toxic to the auditory system and can cause hearing loss, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), balance problems, and other disruptions that may be temporary or permanent. Some examples include chemotherapy drugs and salicylate pain relievers (aspirin).[1]


Presbycusis (hearing loss associated with aging) is commonly associated causes of hearing loss — but interestingly, it’s not the most common. That honor goes to…

Noise exposure

All it takes is one extremely loud noise (100 decibels (dB) or more) or exposure over time to loud noises of more than 85 dB. It is the most common cause of hearing loss, causing vital hair cells to fall out and other damage that cannot be repaired. The best treatment is prevention.

Prevent hearing loss with help from a hearing care professional

Taking reasonable precautions to protect your child’s or your own hearing can help you avoid many causes of hearing impairment.  However, if you have already suffered enough damage to cause ringing in your ears or find it difficult to hear someone talking a few feet away, don’t hesitate to call 855-355-9064 or schedule a no-obligation appointment online. Seeking the advice of a hearing care professional on how to safeguard against losing more — or all — of your hearing.

[1] American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.