Hearing loss is a gradual or sudden decrease in your ability to hear sounds. Itâ€™s important to get hearing problems checked and treated because they can cause problems with communication and relationships with other people, leading to isolation. Hearing loss can also cause safety issues.
Hearing loss can happen at any age, but itâ€™s more common as people get older.
What is the cause?
Hearing loss happens when there is a problem with one or more parts of the ear or hearing pathways. There are different types of hearing loss. For example:
Presbycusis is a gradual loss of hearing in both ears that can happen as you get older. It is caused by damage to nerves in the ear that register sounds and send signals to the brain. Being exposed to loud noises throughout life may play a role in this type of hearing loss.
Conductive deafness happens when sound waves are blocked as they pass through the outer or middle ear. The most common cause of conductive deafness is earwax. Other causes include ear infections, a tear or hole in your eardrum, or damage to the small bones in the middle ear that conduct sound waves.
Central deafness is due to a problem in the hearing centers of your brain. Central deafness may follow a long illness with high fever, a head injury, or stroke. It can also be caused by a tumor. This type of deafness is lifelong, but speech therapy may help communication.
Otosclerosis is a disorder of the bone around your inner ear. The exact cause of this disorder is not known. It may be caused by viruses or hormones, or it may be inherited.
Hearing loss caused by medicines. Some medicines can damage the ear and lead to a loss of hearing. Some medicines cause permanent damage, such as some antibiotics and drugs used to treat cancer. Others can cause temporary hearing loss, such as aspirin, water pills, or antimalaria drugs. Tell your healthcare provider if you think your medicine is affecting your hearing.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms depend on the cause of your hearing loss. Symptoms may include:
Having trouble hearing conversations when you are in a group or if there is a lot of background noise
Feeling ear pain when you are around loud noises
Hearing sounds as muffled, but thinking your own voice sounds louder than normal
Hearing sounds but not understanding what is being said. You may especially have trouble understanding people with higher pitched voices, such as women and children.
Hearing nothing in one or both ears
Having ringing in one or both ears (tinnitus)
How is it diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history and examine you. You may be referred to a hearing specialist or an ear, nose, and throat specialist for hearing tests. You may have X-rays or other scans to check for possible causes of your hearing loss.
How is it treated?
Treatment depends on the cause. If you have a buildup of earwax, it will be removed. If a medicine is causing the hearing loss, stopping or lowering the dosage of the medicine may help.
Your provider may recommend hearing aids. Hearing aids are devices that make sounds louder. Different hearing problems may need different kinds of hearing aids.
In some cases, you may need surgery on the small bones of your inner ear.
How can I take care of myself?
If you have a hearing problem, tell people about it and ask them to speak slowly and clearly. If you don’t hear something the first time, ask people to repeat what they said a little more loudly. Ask people to face you when they speak, and watch their lips and body signs. When you are in a group or audience listening to a speaker, learn where to sit so that you can hear better.
Amplified telephone receivers and amplified headsets for listening to music or watching TV can be very helpful. You can also install a flashing light system in your home so that you can know when someone is phoning you or ringing your doorbell.
Follow the instructions your healthcare provider gives you. Ask your provider:
How and when you will hear your test results
How long it will take to recover
If there are activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
How to take care of yourself at home
What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them
Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup. Keep all appointments for provider visits or tests.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth. Last modified: 2014-10-30 Last reviewed: 2014-04-06
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Hearing Loss: References
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ACOEM Evidence-Based Statement: Noise-Induced Hearing Loss. Jrnl Occup & Environ Medicine 2003; 45(6): 579-81.
Fundamentals of Hearing (2 ed.). Yost WA, Nielsen DW. 1985 New York.
Ohlemiller KS. Recent Findings & Emerging Questions in Cochlear Noise Injury. Hearing Research 2008; 245:5-17.
Parham K et al. Challenges and opportunities in presbycusis. Otolaryngol Head & Neck Surg. 2011; 144 (4): 491-495.