Many factors — known and still being researched — can cause or contribute to hearing loss, including illness, noise and aging. However, there’s a myriad of things you can do to reduce the risk of you or your child developing hearing loss. Begin by getting all medically-recommended vaccinations against preventable diseases.
Diseases known to damage hearing
Many diseases known to be dangerous to overall health may also cause hearing loss. The following diseases and their associated vaccination information can serve as an introductory guide for parents and adults seeking information on hearing loss and certain diseases. As always, consult your physician for more detailed and personalized recommendations.
Pneumonia (pneumococcal disease)
More than just a lung infection, pneumococcal diseasecomes in many forms. More than half of middle ear infections are the result of pneumococcus bacteria, while severe forms of the disease can cause permanent hearing loss. The pneumococcal conjugate vaccine protects against 13 forms of pneumococcal bacterial infection. The PCV13 (brand name Prevnar 13) vaccine is used for infants and children up to 5 years old, adults 65 years or older, and adults under 65 with weakened immune systems. A different vaccine, PPSV23 (brand name Pneumovax), protects against 23 types of the bacteria and is intended for all adults 65 years or older and children two years or older at higher risk of pneumococcal bacterial infection.
The bacterial form of this disease is associated with hearing loss, which occurs in 15 to 30 percent of children who contract the disease, due to inflammation damaging the nerve that conducts sound from the ear to the brain for processing. Three kinds of meningitis vaccines are available in the U.S to protect against meningitis:
* Meningococcal conjugate (brand names Menactra, MenHibrix, and Menveo)
* Meningococcal polysaccharide (brand name Menomune)
* Serogroup B (brand names Bexsero and Trumenba)
A meningitis vaccine is only recommended for children 2 months to 10 years old identified as having an increased risk of meningitis infection. All preteens 11-12 years old should be vaccinated with Menactra or Menveo, with a booster dose administered at 16. Serogroup B is only recommended for those at increased risk of developing meningitis. As for adults who were never vaccinated for meningitis, it’s a good idea to talk to your physician about getting vaccinated if you are planning to travel overseas, are entering the military or have an immune deficiency.
Ear infections affect approximately one out of every 10 children infected with measles or rubella (aka “German” measles) and can leave them with permanent hearing loss. Pregnant women who contract rubella early on can pass the virus to their fetus, leading to birth defects that include deafness. A mumps viral infection can damage the cochlea (inner ear) and cause hearing loss or complete deafness in one or both ears.
The MMR vaccine is recommended for all children starting between 12 and 15 months, with a second dose at 4 to 6 years old. Adults should get at least one dose if they lack immunity, as should teens going into college. A variant of this vaccine is now available that also covers varicella (MMRV).
Whooping cough (pertussis)
Irreversible hearing loss is among the potential complications from whopping cough. At 18 months, children should receive their first DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis) vaccine as part of a five-dose schedule administered again at ages 2, 4, 6, and 15. A booster is available for adolescents and adults called Tdap. Expectant mothers should also receive a Tdap dose between 27 to 36 weeks of pregnancy.
Chicken pox (varicella zoster)
The chicken pox virus can damage hearing in children and adults. Babies whose mothers become infected during pregnancy may be born with hearing loss, and children who contract it directly are at greater risk of ear infections that could result in hearing damage. Older adults who had chicken pox in their youth may lose their hearing if the virus reactivates as shingles or as Ramsay Hunt syndrome. Two doses of the varicella vaccine (brand name Varivax) are recommended for children, adolescents, and adults. Alternately, the MMRV vaccine can be used as a single shot alternative in children between 12 months and 12 years old. The vaccine for shingles (brand name Zostavax) is recommended for people over the age of 60 whether they know for sure they’ve had chicken pox or not.
The flu (influenza)
In most cases, temporary hearing loss due to influenza is due to congestion and resolves once the flu passes. Sometimes, however, the virus attacks hearing organs directly, resulting in sudden and sometimes permanent hearing loss. Unlike the other vaccine options described above, there are a variety of seasonal flu vaccines. Each year the CDC calculates which flu viruses are more likely to be prevalent and recommends appropriate vaccines based on that data. They generally recommend everyone 6 months or older receive a flu vaccine at the beginning of every flu season (usually defined as the winter months) unless otherwise instructed by your doctor.
“Although there are many causes and contributors to hearing loss, keeping yourself and your children up-to-date with immunizations is one of the easiest ways to avoid it,” says audiologist Dr. Carol Meyers, an educational specialist for Sivatos, Inc., the manufacturer of Siemens hearing aids. “Remember, if you’re unsure or have questions about immunizations, consult your physician.”