There are many different factors that can lead to hearing loss in Tucson. Some of them we can’t do much about, like aging, while others such as noise-induced hearing loss are preventable with a few precautions. Viral infections are one of the most common causes of hearing loss, and one of those has been making national headlines lately.
What are Mumps?
A recent outbreak of mumps in the Pacific Northwest has raised awareness of a common childhood disease all but forgotten once immunizations became routine. Mumps cases have increased from around 1,000 in 2015 to over 6,000 the following two years, and another bout this past January in Washington state has public health officials warning the public not to forgo having their children vaccinated in order to help contain the outbreak.
Mumps is a viral infection belonging to the same family as measles and other respiratory infections. It is easily transmitted from person to person through infected saliva, often spread by coughing and sneezing. About two weeks after exposure, a person with mumps will display symptoms such as swelling of the salivary glands on one or both sides of the face; pain when chewing or swallowing; fever; headache and muscle aches; weakness and fatigue; and loss of appetite.
Mumps can lead to rare but serious health complications including inflammation and swelling of the testicles, ovaries, breasts, pancreas and brain; and fluid around the brain and spinal cord. It can also cause hearing loss.
How Do Mumps Cause Hearing Loss?
The exact reason for the connection between mumps and hearing loss is unclear, but experts believe the virus can attack the cochlea, damaging the hair cells responsible for transmitting nerve impulses to the brain that are interpreted as sound. The auditory nerve, brainstem and stria vascularis – a key source of blood supply to the inner ear, crucial in keeping the hair cells healthy – are all at risk of harm from mumps.
Those whose hearing is affected as a result of mumps are usually diagnosed with sensorineural hearing loss affecting the inner ear. It is almost always single-sided (confined to one ear) and often permanent. Once the hair cells in the cochlea have been destroyed, they can’t be repaired and won’t regenerate. As serious as this complication is, hearing loss resulting from mumps is extremely rare. Only about 1-4 percent of people who are infected with mumps in Tucson will go on to develop hearing loss.
Still, it makes sense to take every precaution. The best way to prevent against mumps is to make sure your child is immunized. The MMR vaccine protects against measles, mumps and rubella (all of which can cause hearing loss) and has been readily available for decades. Your child’s pediatrician will determine a vaccination schedule, but typically children are immunized between 12-15 months of age, with a booster between 4-6 and another in the teen years. This last booster is important, as research shows people who have received two or fewer mumps vaccinations have a higher risk of contracting the disease than people who have had all three. Long-term efficacy rates are around 80 percent; most mumps outbreaks occur in individuals who have not received the proper immunizations.
Speak to your Tucson audiologist to learn more about the connection between hearing loss and other diseases.