Illness & Conditions - Special Health Issues
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:
What are the symptoms?
Common symptoms of hearing loss include:
Other symptoms may include:
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:
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?
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Frequently Asked Questions
In adults, the most common causes of hearing loss are:
Other causes of hearing loss include:
Other medical conditions that do not affect the ear directly may also cause hearing loss.
Symptoms of hearing loss include:
Other symptoms that may occur with hearing loss include:
People who have hearing loss are sometimes not aware of it. Family members or friends often are the first to notice the hearing loss. Evaluate your hearing by taking a hearing loss self-test.
Which part of the ear is affected determines the type of hearing loss.
A mixed hearing loss, in which both the conductive and sensorineural systems are affected, can also occur.
Another type of hearing loss is central hearing loss. In this type of hearing loss, the ear works, but the brain has trouble understanding sounds because the parts that control hearing are damaged. It may occur after a head injury or stroke. This type of hearing loss is rare.
Undiagnosed and untreated hearing loss can contribute to depression, social isolation, and loss of independence, especially in older adults.
When to Call a Doctor
Call 911 or other emergency services immediately if:
Call a doctor immediately if you:
Call your doctor if you:
If you think you have a hearing problem, you might choose to see an audiologist.
Watchful waiting is when you and your doctor watch symptoms to see if the health problem improves on its own. Although hearing loss is not usually dangerous, it can affect your personal safety. It can also reduce how much you can do in the workplace and at home and limit you socially. It is important that you talk to your doctor or an audiologist about hearing loss.
Who to see
Hearing loss can be diagnosed by:
Exams and Tests
Your doctor will diagnose hearing loss by asking questions about your symptoms and past health (medical history) and by doing a physical exam. He or she may find during a routine visit that you have some hearing loss.
You will also have a physical exam of the ears . Your doctor will use a lighted instrument (an otoscope) and may find problems in the ear canal, eardrum, and middle ear, including:
If your exam, history, or symptoms suggest a hearing problem, your doctor may refer you to an audiologist to do hearing tests.
Depending on the suspected cause of hearing loss, you may also have other tests:
Tests for your child
Some hearing problems can delay your child's speech and language development. Early screening for hearing loss can help prevent many learning, social, and emotional problems that can be related to speech and language development. 1 The United States Preventive Services Task Force recommends that all newborns be screened for hearing loss. 2 All 50 states require newborn hearing tests for all babies born in hospitals. Talk to your doctor about whether your child has been or should be tested.
Signs of noise-induced hearing loss are appearing at earlier ages and in children. Be sure your child has regular hearing exams.
Treatment for temporary or reversible hearing loss usually depends on the cause of the hearing loss. Treatment for permanent hearing loss includes using hearing devices or hearing implants.
Although you and your family may view permanent hearing loss as part of aging, proper treatment is important. Hearing loss may contribute to loneliness, depression , and loss of independence. Treatment cannot bring back your hearing, but it can make communication, social interaction, and work and daily activities easier and more enjoyable.
Treatment for reversible hearing loss depends on its cause. It is often treated successfully. Hearing loss caused by:
You can prevent some types of hearing loss.
Preventing noise-related hearing loss
Being exposed to loud noise over and over is one of the most common causes of permanent hearing loss. It usually develops slowly and without pain or other symptoms, and you may not notice that you have hearing loss until it is severe.
Be sure your child has regular hearing exams and follows the suggestions below to prevent hearing loss.
Steps you can take to lower your risk of noise-induced hearing loss include the following:
Preventing other causes of hearing loss
To lower your risk of other types of hearing loss:
Living With Hearing Loss
If you have hearing loss, you may find that it takes extra effort and energy to talk with others. Hearing may be especially difficult in settings where there are many people talking or there is a lot of background noise. The increased effort it takes to be with other people may cause stress and fatigue, and you may begin to avoid social activities, feel less independent, and worry about your safety.
Hearing devices you may want to use include:
Many other communication devices, such as pagers, fax machines, email, and custom calling features offered by phone companies, can be helpful. To get more information about selecting and using listening, alerting, and telecommunicating devices, talk to an audiologist.
For family and friends of people with hearing loss
A person with hearing loss may feel cut off from conversations and social interaction. The extra effort and stress needed to take part in conversations can be tiring for all people involved. If you live with someone who has hearing loss, you may improve your communication by:
Other Places To Get Help
Last Revised: April 13, 2011
Joint Committee on Infant Hearing, American Academy of Pediatrics (2007). Year 2007 position statement: Principles and guidelines for early hearing detection and intervention programs. Pediatrics, 120(4): 898–921. Also available online: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/reprint/120/4/898.
U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (2008). Universal screening for hearing loss in newborns: Recommendation statement. Available online:
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