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Hearing Loss

What is hearing loss?

Hearing loss means you have trouble hearing or you cannot hear at all in one or both ears. Hearing loss can happen suddenly or slowly over time.

What are the types of hearing loss?

  • Conductive hearing loss: This is a problem with the outer or middle ear that makes it hard for sound waves to reach the inner ear. Sometimes this hearing loss can be treated by correcting the cause of the problem. Examples include removal of earwax or an object, medicine for an ear infection, or surgery.

  • Sensorineural hearing loss: There may be damage to parts of the inner ear. There is usually no cure for sensorineural hearing loss. Most people with this type of hearing loss must use hearing aids or other devices to hear better.

  • Mixed hearing loss: This type of hearing loss includes both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss.

What causes hearing loss?

  • Aging

  • Ear and head injury or blockage caused by an object, earwax, or swelling

  • Medical problems such as ear infections, tumors, or otosclerosis (abnormal growth of bones in the ear)

  • Increased fluid in the inner ear

  • Medicines that damage the ears

  • Exposure to loud noises

What are the signs and symptoms that you may have hearing loss?

  • You often ask others to repeat what they just said. You often think people are mumbling or not speaking clearly. Family members ask you if your hearing is okay.

  • You cup your hand behind one of your ears when you listen.

  • You need to have the radio or television louder than usual.

  • You need to lean forward or turn your head to be able to hear.

  • You have ringing or buzzing in your ears, or you are dizzy.

  • You avoid certain situations because you have a hard time hearing.

How is hearing loss diagnosed?

Your caregiver will ask about your hearing loss. Your caregiver will also examine your ears using an instrument that has a light and magnifying glass.

  • Audiometry:

    • Pure tone test: Tones or sounds will be played for you to see how much you can hear. A device called an audioscope may be used.

    • Speech reception threshold test: This will test how well you hear words and at what point you cannot hear them at all.

  • Tuning fork test: A tuning fork is an instrument that has 2 prongs and makes a sound when it vibrates. A tuning fork is held to the bone behind your ear. You will be asked if you can hear certain sounds. This test can tell caregivers what type of hearing loss you have and if it is in one or both ears.

  • Tympanometry: This test is used to check pressure changes in the ear.

How is hearing loss treated?

  • Correct the cause of your hearing loss: For example, if your ear is plugged with earwax or an object, your caregiver will remove it. Caregivers may change or stop certain medicines if they think the medicines are causing your hearing loss.

  • Hearing aids: A hearing aid is a small device that fits inside your ear and helps you hear better. Work with your caregiver to decide which hearing aid is best for you.

  • Assistive listening devices: These devices are like small radios that pick up sound and send it through earphones or a headset . Assistive listening devices (ALDs) may help you hear better when you watch TV, sit in a classroom, or listen to a speaker. ALDs for phones and doorbells use flashing lights or vibrators to let you know they are ringing. ALDs can be used with hearing aids.

  • Antibiotic medicine: This medicine may be given if you have an ear infection caused by bacteria. Always take your antibiotics exactly as ordered by your caregiver.

  • Therapy: You may need to work with a specialist who can help you with speech and hearing.

  • Cochlear implant: This is a tiny device that is put into your cochlea (a part of your inner ear) during surgery. This device is only given to people with sensorineural hearing loss.

  • Surgery: You may need surgery if your hearing loss is caused by otosclerosis or other problems. People who need ear tubes to help prevent ear infections may also need surgery.

What are the risks of hearing loss?

Without treatment, hearing loss can affect how you learn, speak, or work. Hearing loss can be dangerous if you cannot hear alarms, sirens, or phones.

How can I manage my hearing loss?

  • Protect your hearing: Use ear plugs or ear protectors if you do activities that are very loud. These include using a lawnmower and power tools or going to a concert that has loud music. Use well-fitting foam earplugs that completely block your ear canal. Do not listen to loud music through headphones or earphones.

  • Tell people that you have hearing loss: Ask people to face you directly when they speak to you. Ask people not to cover their mouths as they speak. When you are in a group setting, sit in a location where you can clearly see the faces of the people who are talking. Ask people not to speak loudly or shout when they speak to you if they do this. People should speak using their usual tone and volume. Try to talk to others in a quiet place. Background noise makes it harder for you to hear.

  • Pay close attention to your surroundings when you drive: Do not talk to people in your car while you are driving. Watch for problems on the road or approaching emergency vehicles.

Where can I go for support and more information?

  • American Speech-Language-Hearing Association
    2200 Research Boulevard
    Rockville , MD 20850-3289
    Phone: 1- 800 - 638-8255
    Web Address: http://www.asha.org
  • Better Hearing Institute
    1444 I Street NW, Suite 700
    Washington , DC 20005
    Phone: 1- 202 - 449-1100
    Web Address: www.betterhearing.org

When should I contact my caregiver?

Contact your caregiver if:

  • You have a fever.

  • You have ear pain that is getting worse.

  • You have ringing in your ears or dizziness that will not go away.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately if:

  • You have fluid, pus, or blood leaking from your ear.

  • You have sudden, severe hearing loss.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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