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Hearing Loss


Overview

Picture of the anatomy of the ear

What is hearing loss?

Hearing loss is a sudden or gradual decrease in how well you can hear. Depending on the cause, it can be mild or severe, temporary or permanent.

Congenital hearing loss means you are born without hearing. This topic focuses on gradual hearing loss, which happens over time and can affect people of all ages.

If you have hearing loss, you may not be aware of it, especially if it has happened over time. Your family members or friends may notice that you're having trouble understanding what others are saying.

There are ways you can deal with hearing loss. And hearing aids and other devices can help you hear.

What causes hearing loss?

In adults, the most common causes of hearing loss are:

  • Noise. Noise-induced hearing loss can happen slowly over time. Being exposed to everyday noises, such as listening to very loud music or using a lawn mower, can damage the structures of the inner ear, leading to hearing loss over many years. Sudden, loud noises, such as an explosion, can damage your hearing.
  • Age. In age-related hearing loss, changes in the inner ear that happen as you get older cause a slow but steady hearing loss. The loss may be mild or severe, and it is always permanent.

Other causes of hearing loss include earwax buildup, an object in the ear, injury to the ear or head, an ear infection, a ruptured eardrum, and other conditions that affect the middle or inner ear.

What are the symptoms?

Common symptoms of hearing loss include:

  • Muffled hearing and a feeling that your ear is plugged.
  • Trouble understanding what people are saying, especially when other people are talking or when there is background noise, such as a radio.
  • Listening to the TV or radio at a higher volume than in the past.
  • Depression. Many adults may become depressed because of how hearing loss affects their social lives.

Other symptoms may include:

  • A ringing, roaring, hissing, or buzzing in the ear, called tinnitus.
  • Ear pain, itching or irritation of the ear, or fluid leaking from the ear.
  • A feeling that you or your surroundings are spinning (vertigo).

How is hearing loss diagnosed?

Your doctor will do a physical exam and ask about your symptoms and past health. He or she also may look in your ears with a lighted device called an otoscope.

If your doctor thinks that you have hearing loss, he or she will do hearing tests to check whether you have hearing loss and find out how severe it is. You may be referred to an audiologist to do the tests. These tests may include:

  • A "whisper" test, which checks how well you hear whispered speech.
  • A tuning fork test, which helps your doctor know which kind of hearing loss you have.
  • Other tests to find out what kind of hearing loss you have or which part of your ear is affected.

How is it treated?

Noise-induced or age-related hearing loss can be treated with hearing devices, such as hearing aids. Other devices can help alert you to sounds around the house like the phone or doorbell. If hearing aids don't work for you, cochlear implants may be an option.

You also can learn ways to live with reduced hearing, such as paying attention to people's gestures, facial expressions, posture, and tone of voice.

In other types of hearing loss, you can treat the problem that caused the hearing loss. For example, you may remove earwax or take medicine for an infection to help your hearing come back.

How can you prevent hearing loss?

  • Avoid loud noise, such as noise from machines at your work, power tools, very loud music, and very loud motorcycles.
  • Turn down the volume on anything that you listen to through ear buds or headphones, such as mp3 players.
  • Wear hearing protection, such as earplugs or earmuffs.
  • Avoid putting objects in your ear.
  • Blow your nose gently and through both nostrils.
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