Hearing loss often happens slowly over time. It may also be sudden in some people. Problems in adults may be:

  • Problems hearing:
    • High-pitched sounds
    • Low-pitched sounds
    • All sounds
    • Speech when there is background noise
  • Lightheadedness or a feeling of spinning known as vertigo
  • Ringing, hissing, or roaring sounds in the ears known as tinnitus
  • Sounds that seem too loud
  • Problems with balance
  • Ear pain
  • A feeling of fullness or pressure in the ear

Some people may not know that they have hearing loss. This is common when it happens slowly over time or when it only happens in 1 ear. They may notice:

  • Problems hearing on the telephone
  • Problems keeping track of a conversation when 2 or more people are talking at the same time
  • Misunderstanding what other people are saying and responding the wrong way
  • Misunderstanding words that sound the same
  • Asking people to repeat what they said or speak more slowly, loudly, and clearly
  • Having the TV or radio volume too high
  • Not entering conversations because of problems hearing

Symptoms of deafness or hearing loss in infants may be:

  • 0 to 3 months:
    • Does not react to loud sounds or voices
    • Does not turn head toward someone who is talking
  • 3 to 6 months:
    • Does not turn toward a new sound
    • Does not respond to changes in tone of voice
    • Does not imitate own voice or make babbling or cooing sounds
    • Does not respond to rattles or toys that make music
  • 6 to 10 months:
    • Does not respond to own name, another person’s voice, or telephone ringing
    • Does not make babbling sounds
    • Does not look at things when someone talks about them
  • 10 to 15 months:
    • Is not playful with own voice
    • Does not mimic easy words or sounds
    • Does not focus on known objects or people when asked
    • Problems speaking like his or her peers
  • 15 to 18 months:
    • Does not know or say even a small number of words
    • Does not follow simple directions
    • Has more signs of problems speaking like his or her peers

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 October 25, 2019.

Hearing loss and older adults. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) website. Available at: https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/hearing-loss-older-adults. Updated July 17, 2018. Accessed October 25, 2019.

Stachler RJ, Chandrasekhar SS, et al; American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery Foundation (AAO-HNSF). Clinical practice guideline: sudden hearing loss. Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2012 Mar;146(3 Suppl):S1-35.

Sudden sensorineural hearing loss. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:https://www.dynamed.com/condition/sudden-sensorineural-hearing-loss. Updated November 26, 2018. Accessed October 25, 2019.

Last reviewed September 2019 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Daniel A. Ostrovsky, MD  Last Updated: 05/27/2020