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Hearing Loss

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jul 4, 2022.

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 occurs when there is a problem with the outer or middle ear. Sound waves cannot reach your inner ear. This type of hearing loss may be caused by earwax buildup, fluid, or a punctured ear drum. It can often be treated by correcting the cause of the problem.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss is caused by damage to parts of the inner ear. There is usually no cure for sensorineural hearing loss.
  • Mixed hearing loss includes both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss.

What causes hearing loss?

  • Aging
  • Regular exposure to loud noise
  • Head injury
  • Blockage in your ear caused by earwax buildup, swelling, cyst, or other growth
  • Medical conditions such as ear infections or otosclerosis (abnormal growth of bones in the ear)
  • Medicines that damage your ears such as aspirin, certain antibiotics, and diuretics

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

  • You often ask others to repeat what they just said. You may 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 healthcare provider will ask about your hearing loss and examine your ears. You may need any of the following:

  • Hearing tests may be done to check how well you hear whispered words or soft sounds such as a finger rub.
  • A tuning fork may be used to test your hearing. A tuning fork is made of metal. It vibrates and makes noise when it strikes an object. Your healthcare provider will hold the tuning fork to the left and right of your head. He will ask if you can hear the noise and feel the vibration in each ear.
  • Audiometry is a test used to measure how well you can hear different sounds. You will put on headphones that are attached to a machine. Sounds will be sent through the headphones. You will press a button or raise your hand when you hear the sounds. Each ear will be tested separately. Another device will be placed on the bone behind your ear. The device will test how well vibration moves through the bones. This is called bone conduction.
  • Tympanometry is a test used to find hearing problems in the middle ear. A device is placed into your ear. The device creates pressure changes that make your eardrum vibrate.

How is hearing loss treated?

Treatment depends on the cause of your hearing loss. Removal of earwax or treatment for any medical conditions that have caused your hearing loss may be needed. You may need any of the following:

  • A hearing aid is a small device that fits inside your ear and helps you hear better. Your healthcare provider can help you choose a hearing aid that is right for you.
  • A cochlear implant is a tiny device that is put into your cochlea (part of your inner ear) during surgery. This device can only be used in people with sensorineural hearing loss.
  • Assistive listening devices (ALDs) pick up sound and send it through earphones or a headset. ALDs can help you hear better when you are in a place with background noise. Examples include theaters, classrooms, or auditoriums. ALDs are also available for phones. ALDs can be used alone or with hearing aids or cochlear implants.
  • Surgery may be needed if your hearing loss is caused by otosclerosis. Surgery may also be done to place small tubes in your ear. These tubes help drain fluid and help prevent ear infections.

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, and to slow down if they are speaking too fast. When you are in a group setting, sit in a location where you can clearly see the faces of the people who are speaking. Ask people not to speak loudly or shout when they are speaking to you. Try to talk with 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.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You have fluid, pus, or blood leaking from your ear.
  • You have sudden, severe hearing loss.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • 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.

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 healthcare providers 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.

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