Hearing Loss


Hearing loss is the sudden or gradual decrease in how well an individual can hear sounds.

Hearing loss can be mild or severe, reversible, temporary or permanent, and may affect one or both ears.

Causes Of Hearing Loss

The most common cause of hearing loss is age, affecting up to 25 percent of people between the ages of 65 and 75 and up to 75 percent of those over the age of 75. Age-related hearing loss, known as presbycusis, results from changes in the ear which cause gradual hearing loss. Some individuals are hearing-impaired or deaf as a result of a congenital defect or because of an illness, such as Ménière’s disease.

Temporary or permanent hearing loss in people of all ages is often caused by one of the following:

  • Loud noises, such as loud music or machinery
  • Wax buildup in one or both ears
  • Perforation of the eardrum from illness or injury
  • Damage to the tiny bones, or ossicles, of the ear
  • Fluid buildup due to ear infection
  • Foreign object stuck in the ear canal
  • Ototoxic medication
  • Damage to the tiny bones, or ossicles, of the ear

Types Of Hearing Loss

There are three basic types of hearing loss, varying both in causes and treatment.


In conductive hearing loss, the problem results from a structural or blockage problem with the outer or middle ear. This variety of hearing loss, which causes sounds to be less audible, is most often treated with surgery.


In sensorineural hearing loss, the difficulty results from damage to the inner ear or to the auditory nerve, most commonly because the hair cells are not functioning properly. Sensorineural hearing loss, which causes sounds to be less intelligible, is often treated successfully with hearing aids.

Mixed Hearing Loss

Mixed hearing loss occurs when the patient suffers from hearing loss as a result of both neural and conductive malfunctions affecting both the both the outer or middle and the inner ear. Mixed hearing loss is most often treated with bone-anchored hearing aids.

Symptoms Of Hearing Loss

While hearing loss may affect social interaction and other aspects of daily life, people are often unaware that they have a loss of hearing until others point it out to them. Common symptoms of hearing loss may include:

  • Muffled or unusually loud speech
  • Inability to understand or decipher conversation
  • Sensation that one or both ears are plugged
  • Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears
  • Need for increased volume on radio or television

Diagnosis Of Hearing Loss

In order to diagnose a possible hearing loss, the otologist or audiologist may perform various hearing tests. The most common hearing tests are:

Tuning Fork Tests

These tests can help to diagnose whether the vibrating parts of the middle ear, including the eardrum, are working properly and whether there is damage to the sensors or nerves of the inner ear.

Audiometer Tests

These tests are more thorough than tuning fork tests. During audiometer tests, the patient wears earphones and a range of sounds at various tones is directed into each ear, one at a time. As the physician plays the sounds more and more faintly, and the patient indicates when a sound is audible, the doctor is able to determine the limits of the individual’s hearing.

Treatment Of Hearing Loss

Treatment of hearing loss depends in the cause of the problem. For temporary loss of hearing due to wax buildup, a thorough cleaning of the ear canal, also known as an irrigation or lavage, may be helpful. For hearing loss resulting from an ear infection, antibiotics and decongestants may do the trick.

For more permanent types of hearing loss resulting from aging, hearing aids may be helpful, although adjusting to them may take a few weeks. Since hearing aids work by amplifying sound, however, they will not work in all situations. If the hearing loss involves hearing static interference, for example, the patient will not be helped by simply increasing the volume.

When the eardrum has been torn or perforated, surgical intervention may be necessary in the form of a tympanoplasty. More profound hearing loss as a result of congenital defect, injury or disease may necessitate the surgical implantation of cochlear implants to repair parts of the ear. Individuals coping with severe hearing loss may also learn to pay careful attention to gestures and facial expressions, to read lips, or to use sign language in order to improve their communication skills.

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