Illness and Disease - A guide to Hearing Loss

There are certain illnesses, infections or diseases which can result in hearing loss. These include diseases which are specific to the ear and others in which hearing loss is one of several symptoms.

These are responsible for sensorineural hearing loss, one of three types of hearing impairment in which damage occurs to either the auditory nerve or hair cells within the cochlea. There are a wide range of conditions that occur in both adults and children, which cause hearing loss amongst other things and include:

  • Rubella (German measles)
  • Meningitis
  • Mumps
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Measles
  • Colds
  • Sinusitis
  • Stroke
  • Encephalitis

And there are ear conditions which cause hearing loss which are discussed individually within this section. Our ear conditions pages contain a list with links to all of these conditions.

Rubella (German measles)

This is a relatively mild viral infection which affects children more than adults. But it can be harmful to pregnant women who have not been vaccinated against this infection or have not developed immunity to it. It is characterised by fever, rash, eye infection, runny nose and swollen glands.

If a woman contracts rubella during the early part of her pregnancy then this can cause birth defects such as severe hearing loss or profound deafness.


This is an inflammation of the membranes that cover the spinal cord and the brain. It is caused by a viral or bacterial infection and causes a range of symptoms which include sensitivity to light, stiff neck, skin rash, severe headaches and a high temperature.

Bacterial meningitis is more serious than its viral counterpart and can lead to complications which include hearing loss.


An infectious viral disease which can people of any age. Symptoms of mumps are similar to flu and include swollen glands (neck), fever, sore throat, aches and pains and earache. The majority of people who contract mumps recover without any problems but it can lead to complications in a small minority of cases. These include temporary and permanent hearing loss.

Multiple Sclerosis

This progressive condition attacks the protective layer –called myelin - which surrounds the nerves in your brain and spinal cord. Myelin is essential for transmitting signals from your brain and spinal cord to the rest of your body but if this becomes damaged then these signals become disrupted.

Symptoms of multiple sclerosis include muscle weakness, lack of balance, tingling skin and double vision.

Another symptom, which is very rare, is damage to the brainstem resulting in hearing loss. The brainstem contains nerves which control sight, balance and hearing, for example the auditory nerve, but this nerve can become inflamed as a result of this condition which then disrupts normal hearing.


A highly infectious respiratory disease which affects both adults and children although children are more commonly affected. It is characterised by a red rash, coughing, runny nose, high temperature and an eye infection (conjunctivitis). The rash usually appears a couple of days or so after the other symptoms and covers all of the body. Complications of measles include encephalitis, pneumonia and otitis media. Otitis media is an infection of the middle ear in which fluid builds up causing temporary hearing loss.


The common cold is caused by a group of viruses which pass from person to person through the air or from touching infected surfaces. A cold usually clears up on its own accord and doesn’t require treatment unless complications arise. Symptoms of a cold include runny nose, headache, sneezing, coughing and tiredness. Earache can also develop which is usually due to the build up of fluid or mucus within the ear. This caused that ‘blocked’ feeling in your ears and also affects your hearing.

A cold can also lead to an ear infection such as otitis externa or otitis media.


An inflammation of the membranes, within the sinuses that surround the nose.

The sinuses are pockets of space that lie behind the nasal bones which are lined with mucous membranes. These membranes produce a sticky substance called mucus which keeps the nose free from dirt and bacteria. But these can become infected which results in a painful face, blocked nose, headache, fever and earache. There are four sets of sinuses and the type of pain you have will depend upon which of these are affected. This congestion of the nose and ears will result in some form of hearing loss but this temporary only.


A stroke (‘brain attack’) occurs when the blood supply to the brain is blocked by a clot or a blood vessel bursts within the brain. The effects of this are instantaneous and cause facial paralysis, inability to lift the arms, slurred speech and a general weakness down one side of the body.

Many functions of the body are affected by a stroke but hearing isn’t usually one of them. But what some people do find is that they are unable to understand language and have problems with speech as well.

However, if you suddenly experience a loss of hearing for no apparent reason, such as sensorineural hearing loss, then a mini stroke within your inner ear might be the cause of this.

Research has found evidence of a link between sudden hearing loss and the increased risk of a stroke. It is very rare for the hearing loss to have occurred as a direct result of a stroke and is more likely to be a warning sign.


This rare condition is an inflammation of the brain which develops as a result of an infection or an immune system disorder. Symptoms of this include headache, fever, vomiting, seizures and drowsiness. Complications can occur which result in memory problems, personality changes and impairment/loss in any of the five senses e.g. hearing.

Hearing Loss

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