Sometimes, hearing loss can occur because of a variety of reasons: buildup of earwax, an ear infection, or even exposure to loud noises. Many people believe having a little trouble hearing every now and then is a minor inconvenience, and that the condition is only temporary. However, a new study suggests the sound deprivation can lead to irreversible hearing loss.

How Is Sound Deprivation Affecting Hearing?

When sound’s ability to travel between the ear canal and the inner ear is damaged, conductive hearing loss occurs. Sounds and voices will seem faint or muffled to anyone suffering with the disorder. In the study, performed by the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, scientists wanted to be able to determine what happens to people with a recurring case of hearing loss.

By testing mice dealing with chronic conductive hearing loss in one ear, they were able to determine that sound deprivation causes irreversible damage to the inner ear.

“After a year of sound deprivation, we observed dramatic changes in the inner ear – notably, a significant loss of the synaptic connections through which the sensory cells send their electrical signals to the brain,” says Stephane F. Maison, Ph.D., lead researcher, investigator in the Eaton-Peabody Laboratories at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, and assistant professor of otolaryngology at Harvard Medical School.

What About Your Good Ear?

Even with the damage from sound deprivation, some individuals feel that not being able to hear from one ear is not a situation worth fixing.

“Although these conditions are routinely treated in industrial societies, a number of patients choose not to receive treatment, particularly when their medical condition affects only one ear,” Dr. Maison said. “For instance, patients with unilateral atresia, a condition in which the ear canal is closed or absent, see limited benefits of undergoing surgery when they can simply use their good ear.”

However, choosing not to deal with hearing loss is not a wise decision. Other studies have shown how a lack of hearing can affect memory and speech. The same is true for those with children dealing with hearing loss or ear infections, as it can be the causes of dizziness and balance problems. With the research in this study, Dr. Maison advises that “audiologists and physicians should advocate for early intervention and treat these middle ear conditions.”