Sound waves travel from the outside and through structures in the outer, middle, and inner ear. The auditory nerve transmits the signal to the brain where it is translated into sound. Interruption of the sound wave can occur in the ear structures, the auditory nerve, or in the brain where sound waves are translated. This interruption can result in deafness.
Deafness can be present at birth (or soon after) or acquired anytime throughout life. In many cases, the cause of deafness may be unknown.
Factors related to fetal development and birth that may increase the chance of deafness include:
Certain infections in the mother during pregnancy, including
or sexually transmitted diseases
Certain medications taken by the mother that affect the fetus during pregnancy
Low birth weight
Insufficient oxygen to the fetus during birth or other birth trauma
Treatment for deafness depends on the cause. Some types are permanent and cannot be treated. Lifestyle changes are an important part of coping with deafness. Some forms of deafness can be partially treated with surgery. You and your doctor will discuss the best treatment options for you.
Lifestyle changes may include:
Learning sign language and/or lip reading to improve communication skills
TTY—a means of communication over the phone by using a keyboard
Using writing as a means of communication
Using closed captioning
If you are planning to go to a new place, such as a theater or hotel, find out what accommodations or assistance is available before you arrive.
It is common to feel isolated and removed in social situations. This can lead to feelings of
social anxiety. Part of managing deafness may include counseling or a support group.
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.
Deafness may not be preventable in all people.
Hearing screening for newborns can help ensure that hearing loss in young babies is detected and treated at the earliest possible stage. This will lessen the impact on your baby's life.
To help reduce the chance of deafness for you or your child:
Make sure all vaccines are up to date.
Get proper prenatal care, including screening for infectious diseases.
Avoid certain drugs during pregnancy.
Consider genetic testing if there is a family history of deafness.
Get prompt treatment for infections, including those that affect the ear directly.
Adjusting to hearing loss. Hearing Link website. Available at: https://www.hearinglink.org/living/adjusting-to-hearing-loss. Accessed September 25, 2017.
Deafness—a range of causes. State Government of Victoria Better Health website. Available at: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/deafness-a-range-of-causes. Accessed September 25, 2017.
Deafness and hearing loss. World Health Organization website. Available at: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs300/en. Updated February 2017. Accessed September 25, 2017.
Plaza G, Herráiz C. Intratympanic steroids for treatment of sudden hearing loss after failure of intravenous therapy. Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2007;137(1):74-78.
Sudden deafness. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) website. Available at:https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/sudden-deafness. Updated March 6, 2017. Accessed September 25, 2017.
Sudden hearing loss. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/ear%2C-nose%2C-and-throat-disorders/hearing-loss/sudden-hearing-loss. Updated October 2016. Accessed September 25, 2017.
Last reviewed September 2018 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Marcie L. Sidman, MD
Last Updated: 9/11/2015
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