What is hearing loss?
Hearing loss—a reduced ability to hear sound—makes daily life and communication harder. You may lose some or all of your hearing in one or both ears. If you've lost only some hearing, you may just think people aren't speaking clearly. Or you may notice only that it's hard to understand people talking when you're in a loud room, like at a party or restaurant.
Most hearing loss comes on gradually, over many years
Earwax buildup, ear infections, aging, and loud noise are the most common causes of hearing loss
Less often, hearing loss is caused by a disease, a medicine, or a brain tumor
Children and older people should be screened for hearing loss
If you have hearing loss plus other symptoms, such as dizziness, ringing in your ears, or numbness in your face, you should see a doctor to be tested for other health problems
What causes hearing loss?
The most common causes of hearing loss include:
Too much earwax
Exposure to loud noise for a long time, such as from using power tools or listening to lots of loud music
A sudden, very loud noise, such as a gunshot or an explosion
Ear infections Acute Middle Ear Infection in Children The middle ear is the space just behind the eardrum. Germs can get in the middle ear and cause an infection. A middle ear infection is also called otitis media. An acute middle ear infection... read more , particularly in children and young adults
Less common causes of hearing loss include:
An autoimmune disease Autoimmune Diseases The immune system is your body's defense system. It helps protect you from illness and infection. The immune system usually attacks invading bacteria, viruses, and cancer cells. With an autoimmune... read more (a disease that causes your body's immune system to attack its own tissues)
Certain medicines that have ear-damaging side effects
Injuries to the ear
Tumors inside your ear or in parts of your brain
When should I see a doctor for hearing loss?
See a doctor right away if you have hearing loss along with any of these warning signs:
Hearing loss in only one ear
Difficulty chewing or speaking
Numbness in your face
Loss of balance
If you have none of these warning signs and no other symptoms, you should see a doctor, but it doesn't have to be right away.
What will happen at my doctor visit?
Doctors will ask questions about your hearing loss and other symptoms. They'll ask about your health history and any medicines you take. They'll examine your ears and do hearing tests such as:
Audiometry (you'll wear headphones and raise your hand when you hear a sound; the goal is to measure the quietest sound you can hear)
Speech threshold tests (you'll hear words spoken at different volumes to test how loud they have to be before you can understand them)
Discrimination tests (two words that sound a lot alike will be spoken one after the other to test how well you can tell them apart)
Tympanometry (sound waves will be bounced off your eardrum to test how well sound passes through your ear)
Sometimes, doctors do more complicated tests, such as measuring electrical signals in your brain or doing an MRI Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) MRI is a test that uses a machine with a powerful magnet to make pictures of the inside of your body. A computer records changes in the magnetic field around your body. The computer then uses... read more (magnetic resonance imaging) or CT scan Computed Tomography A CT scan uses a large machine shaped like a large donut to take x-rays from many angles. A computer then takes the x-rays and creates many detailed pictures of the inside of your body. Each... read more (computed tomography).
For children with hearing loss, doctors will check to see if:
They talk and understand language as well as they should for their age
How do doctors treat hearing loss?
Doctors treat the cause of your hearing loss if possible.
Many types of hearing loss have no cure, so treatments include devices and ways to help you communicate Treatment of Hearing Loss Many types of hearing loss have no cure, but certain devices can help you hear better and manage daily life. These include: Hearing aids Cochlear implants Brain stem implants Other kinds of... read more , such as:
Other things that can help with hearing loss include:
Alert systems to help you know when something is making a noise, such as a doorbell ringing, a smoke detector sounding, or a baby crying
Captions for videos
Special sound systems for theaters, churches, or other places where other noises make it more difficult to hear
Special telephone systems
A cochlear implant What is a cochlear implant? Many types of hearing loss have no cure, but certain devices can help you hear better and manage daily life. These include: Hearing aids Cochlear implants Brain stem implants Other kinds of... read more (device that sends electrical signals directly into the nerves that help you hear)
A brain stem implant What is a brain stem implant? Many types of hearing loss have no cure, but certain devices can help you hear better and manage daily life. These include: Hearing aids Cochlear implants Brain stem implants Other kinds of... read more if you have damage to the nerves that help you hear
Children with hearing loss Hearing Problems in Children Children can be born with hearing problems or develop them later on. In newborns, genetic defects are the most common cause of hearing problems In children with previous good hearing, the most... read more need special help learning to use language. This may include sign language and speech therapy.
How can I prevent hearing loss?
To prevent hearing loss, you can:
Limit contact with loud noise, including both how loud it is and how long you hear it
Use ear protectors, such as earplugs or noise-blocking earmuffs, when you have to be around loud noises