Hearing loss is a decrease in the ability to hear. It can vary in degree of loss and happen in one or both ears.

Hearing loss is the most common birth defect. It can happen due to faulty genes. It can also happen due to problems during birth or soon after, such as lack of oxygen, jaundice, or bleeding in the brain.

In older adults, hearing loss can happen due to:

  • Presbycusis—hearing loss that happens slowly and gets worse with age due to genetics and the environment
  • Tinnitus—ringing, hissing, or roaring sounds in the ears that are often caused by loud noise, medicines, or other health problems

Normal Anatomy of the Ear
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There are 3 main types of hearing loss:

  • Conductive hearing loss is due to problems in the outer or middle ear that make it hard for sound to pass to the inner ear. This can be from problems along the ear canal, ear drum, and the small internal bones. It can often be corrected by medical or surgical treatment.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss is due to damage to the inner ear or the major nerve pathway that goes from the inner ear to the brain. This type of hearing loss cannot be corrected. Hearing aids and assistive devices can help.
  • Mixed hearing loss is due to a mix of both of the above types of hearing loss.

Chandrasekhar SS, Tsai Do BS, et al. American Academy of Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery Foundation (AAO-HNSF). Clinical Practice Guideline: Sudden Hearing Loss (Update). Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2019 Aug;161(1_suppl):S1-S45.

Hearing loss. Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics website. Available at: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/ear-nose-throat/Pages/Hearing-Loss.aspx. Updated August 1, 2009. Accessed November 26, 2019.

Hearing loss and older adults. NIH Senior Health website. Available at: https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/hearing-loss-older-adults. Updated July 17, 2018. Accessed November 26, 2019.

Otosclerosis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:https://www.dynamed.com/condition/otosclerosis. Updated May 7, 2018. Accessed November 26, 2019.

Sudden sensorineural hearing loss. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:https://www.dynamed.com/condition/sudden-sensorineural-hearing-loss. Updated October 24, 2019. Accessed November 26, 2019.

Last reviewed September 2019 by EBSCO Medical Review Board James P. Cornell, MD  Last Updated: 10/20/2020