Does A Hearing Loss Hurt?

does hearing loss hurt
Hearing loss affect singing

If you are thinking that you may have a hearing loss then perhaps you are also wondering if you would have noticed it at some point along the way. Or maybe your ear just started hurting and you noticed a drop in hearing and are wondering if that pain is because you lost your hearing?  

So does a hearing loss hurt? Losing your hearing does not cause any painful sensation and often goes unnoticed. An individual with hearing loss is not pained physically by it. However, pain can be a result from another medical problem that also caused hearing loss such as an ear infection, viral infection, head injury, loud noise exposure or blast injury.

Hearing loss does not cause physical pain but may cause emotional pain, added stress to your life, and difficulty with communication which all have very real effects on your life.

Hearing Loss Does Not Incur Physical Pain

Hearing loss happens with cells within the cochlea are damaged. The cochlea is the organ of hearing and it converts mechanical energy (vibrations) into a neural signal that the brain can detect.

The cells that make you hear are called hair cells because they have little hair-like follicles sticking out the top of them. Hearing loss occurs when these follicles are damaged or destroyed.

Damaging and destroying cochlea cells do not typically give any physical pain response unless at a very fast rate such as with extremely loud noise. Most time cells are damaged without any pain sensation. Cells may be damaged by loud noise exposure, ototoxic medications, lack of blood supply, old age, head trauma etc.

Often people have hearing loss but are not aware that they have hearing loss. This is actually quite common. Hearing loss gradually happens slowly over many years and it changes at a slow enough rate that most individuals do not realize that it is getting worse until one day someone mentions to them that they are asking for frequent repetitions or they notice the sound of the television is up much more than it used to be. 

Some LOUD Sounds Do Physically Hurt

Loud sounds do hurt your hearing both in the way of damaging your hearing and creating a pain response. I am talking very loud sounds. The degree of immediate pain threshold in most humans is around 130dB. These are common sounds that get that loud if measured at a close range.

  • Pig squeal at close range 130dB
  • Jackhammer 130dB
  • Engine backfire 140dB
  • Dynamite Blast 140dB
  • Firecracker 150dB
  • Balloon Pop 157dB
  • Jet engine takeoff 157dB
  • Fireworks 162dB
  • Artillery Fire 162dB
  • Shotgun 170dB
  • Apollo Liftoff 188dB

Experiencing a sound loud enough to cause physical pain is actually very rare and most people will live their whole lives without experiencing pain from a loud noise. However, if you are in the military, you may have experienced it.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University performed a study in which they “found that when certain sensory cells of the cochlea are damaged, as might occur during very loud noise, they release a chemical that activates the mysterious pain fibers” that can be perceived by the brain.

So sound can cause physical pain but it is more important to remember you can cause physical damage to your ear long before any physical pain in felt. That physical damage will result in hearing loss.

You can listen to loud music, industrial noise, or heavy equipment for an entire day and still be physically comfortable, however, your hearing may still have suffered some damage.

Hearing Loss Can Cause Emotional Pain

Having hearing loss can cause emotional pain in many different ways.
The most common form of emotional pain is simply the frustration. It can be frustrating to not understand someone when they are speaking to you. It is frustrating when needing to constantly ask someone to repeat themselves or say something in a different way so that you can understand them.

If you have experienced frustration in a difficult listening situation you tend to not want to return to those environments. This can lead to social withdrawal and anxiety.

Thankfully, hearing aids can help alleviate some need for repetition of words but certain situations may still remain difficult. Learning effective communication strategies may also alleviate some anxiety.

However, in certain situations like very loud restaurants or listening to a church meeting when babies are crying around you may always remain difficult.

Learning the limitations of your hearing loss can at first seem overwhelming. Often patients report a loss of self-confidence, embarrassment or depression. Sometimes a hearing loss does affect a change in lifestyle, however, for most people, a set of properly fit hearing aids will alleviate most of this emotional pain.

The best way to solve the emotional pain caused by hearing loss is by having a great support system in place. Having a spouse and family members who understand how to help you to be a successful communicator will do the most to alleviate any emotional pain caused by the hearing loss.

The Most Common Cause Of Physical Ear Pain Is An Ear Infection

The most common cause of physical ear pain is an ear infection
It is very common to have a young child cry uncontrollably due to having ear infections. Ear infections often result with both pain and temporary hearing loss.

The most common ear infection is called otitis media and takes place in the middle ear cavity. When pressure or fluid builds behind the eardrum it pushes the eardrum outwards and causes a fierce pressure pain sensation or a dull ache. Sometimes the pressure builds to the point where the eardrum is ruptured. After the rupture, pain resolves but hearing loss remains until the eardrum heals.

Thankfully, as humans age our Eustachian tubes that connect our middle ear cavities to the back of our throat go from being horizontal to tilted upwards making ear infections much less frequent for adults (that and the fact that you are not laying on your back sucking on a bottle of warm milk).

This is an instance where hearing loss and pain go hand and hand but the hearing loss isn’t causing the pain. The ear infection is what is to blame for both problems.

Related Questions

Does tinnitus cause physical pain? Tinnitus or the ringing or buzzing that one hears in their ears is usually not perceived as physically painful but is often thought of to be annoying, frustrating, distracting, or bothersome. However, tinnitus can be a symptom of larger diagnoses that can also include pain; such a Meniere’s disease or common ear infection in which a person may have ear pain and tinnitus concurrently.

Do hearing aids hurt to wear? Hearing aids are designed to be quite comfortable in your ear. However, sometimes people find them to be bothersome, itchy and even painful. Custom fit pieces need to fit the ear canal exactly or else they can rub or cause tenderness in the ear. If your hearing aid hurts you, then please see your audiologist so that they can resolve the issue. No one expects you to wear a hearing aid that causes you physical discomfort.

Jonathan Javid Au.D.

Jonathan Javid Au.D., a seasoned audiologist with an extensive background in the field of audiology. With over 11 years of invaluable clinical experience, Jonathan has dedicated his career to helping individuals enhance their hearing and improve their quality of life.

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