Hearing loss is a decreased ability to hear. There are 2 types of hearing loss, conductive and sensorineural. There may also be a mixture of the two.
Conductive hearing loss is caused by the interference or inability of sound to travel along the pathway from the outer to the middle or inner ear. This can include problems along the ear canal, ear drum, and the small internal bones.
Sensorineural hearing loss is caused by damage to the inner ear:
Hearing loss can be the result of genetics, aging, infection, blockage, disease, or injury such as loud noise or head trauma. In many cases, the cause of sensorineural hearing loss is unknown.
Hearing loss is more common in older adults. Factors that may increase your chance of hearing loss include:
Problems that affect the ear, such as:
Other factors, such as:
Hearing loss may cause a decreased ability to hear:
Hearing loss may also cause:
Call your doctor if you notice hearing loss. You should especially call if you also have:
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
A complete evaluation of the ears will be done. Tests may include:
Images may be taken of your ears and surrounding structures. This can be done with:
The electrical response of your brain to sound may be tested. This can be done with brain stem auditory evoked response testing.
When hearing loss is caused by other medical conditions, it may be possible to improve hearing by treating those conditions. Other treatment options include:
Non-surgical treatment options are not invasive and may help improve your hearing. These include:
Oral or injected corticosteroids may be used to help treat certain types of hearing loss. They are used to:
If medications are suspected as a cause of hearing loss, your doctor will alter your prescriptions to see if hearing improves.
If you have hearing loss, some changes may help you maximize your ability to hear. Follow these guidelines when talking to other people:
Surgery may be done in some cases of conductive hearing loss to correct the middle ear problem, such as in otosclerosis, ossicular damage or fixation, and ear infections. Procedures may include:
A cochlear implant directly stimulates part of the brain and uses a tiny computer microprocessor to sort out incoming sound. It can be for certain types of hearing loss that affect the inner ear.
To help reduce the chances of hearing loss:
American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery
American Tinnitus Association
Canadian Hearing Society
Canadian Society of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery
Cochlear implants. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) website. Available at: https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/cochlear-implants. Updated March 6, 2017. Accessed September 25, 2017.
Hearing loss prevention. Better Hearing Institute website. Available at: http://www.betterhearing.org/hearingpedia/hearing-loss-prevention. Accessed September 25, 2017.
Living with hearing loss. Hearing Loss Association of America website. Available at: http://www.hearingloss.org/content/living-hearing-loss. Accessed September 25, 2017.
Sudden sensorineural hearing loss. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115342/Sudden-sensorineural-hearing-loss. Updated August 25, 2017. Accessed September 25, 2017.
Last reviewed September 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Marcie L. Sidman, MD Last Updated: 9/25/2017