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Hearing Loss: Types, Causes, Symptoms, Risk Factors, Diagnosis And Treatment

| Reviewed By Dr. Arya Krishnan

World Deaf Day is observed every year on last Sunday of the month of September. So, this year World Deaf Day 2019 will be observed on 29 September. Drawing attention towards the achievements of the deaf people as well as deaf people community, the day aims to promote understanding among common people about the problems of deaf people.

On this World Deaf Day, let us examine what hearing loss is.

Hearing loss is the condition when you are unable to hear sounds partially or completely, in one or both of your ears. It usually develops gradually, with time and surveys point out that about 25 per cent of people between the age of 65 and 74 experience hearing loss [1] .

Hearing loss is also termed as decreased hearing, deafness and loss of hearing.

Types Of Hearing Loss

According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), there are three types of hearing loss. Each type is caused by different factors and the classifications are conductive hearing loss, sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL), and mixed hearing loss [2] [3] .

Conductive hearing loss: This occurs when the sounds fail to travel from the outer ear to the eardrum and the bones of the middle ear. Conductive hearing loss makes it difficult for you to hear soft or muffled sounds but the condition is not permanent in every case.

Sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL): This type of hearing loss develops when there is damage to inner ear structures or in the nerve pathways to the brain. SNHL is permanent and an individual with this type of hearing loss can find it difficult to hear distinct, normal or loud sounds.

Mixed hearing loss: This happens when both conductive hearing loss and SNHL occurs at the same time.

Causes Of Hearing Loss

The reasons behind the condition are as follows [4] :

Conductive hearing loss can be caused due to the following reasons:

  • Ear infections
  • Swimmer's ear
  • Allergies
  • A buildup of wax in the ear
  • A foreign object is stuck in the ear
  • Benign tumours
  • Scarring of the ear canal

Sensorineural hearing loss can be caused due to the following reasons [5] :

  • Working around loud noises
  • Birth defects that alter the structure of the ear
  • Acoustic neuroma
  • Trauma to the head or skull
  • Ageing
  • Meniere's disease

Apart from these, infections such as measles, meningitis, mumps and scarlet fever. Ototoxic medications taken for cancer, heart disease, or a serious infection may also cause SNHL.

Symptoms Of Hearing Loss

Hearing loss usually occurs with time. The initial signs are, reduced the capacity of hearing, which you will begin to start noticing with changes in your hearing [6] . Signs which indicate that you need to visit a doctor are as follows [7] :

  • Needing to turn up the volume of the television or radio
  • Muffling of speech and other sounds

Ringing in the ear

  • Difficulty understanding words, especially against background noise or in a crowd
  • Trouble hearing consonants
  • Frequently asking others to speak more slowly, clearly and loudly
  • Hearing loss that's worse in one ear
  • Headaches
  • Having ear pain along with hearing problems
  • Numbness on face
  • Weakness
  • If you face the following signs along with headaches, numbness, or weakness, get immediate medical attention [8] .

    • Mental agitation
    • Neck stiffness
    • Quick breathing
    • Chills
    • Vomiting
    • Sensitivity to light

    Risk Factors Of Hearing Loss

    Factors that may damage or lead to loss of the hairs and nerve cells in your inner ear pose as risk factors and they are as follows [9] :

    Loud noise (short blast of noise, such as from a gunshot or long-term exposure to loud noises)

    • Heredity
    • Ageing
    • Occupational noises (construction or factory work)
    • Recreational noises (firearms, jet engines, snowmobiling, motorcycling, carpentry or listening to loud music)
    • Certain illnesses such as meningitis
    • Certain medications

    10 Effective Home Remedies & Lifestyle Tips For Meningitis

    Complications Of Hearing Loss

    Hearing loss can limit your daily life in various ways. It has been reported to cause depression in older adults. Hearing loss is also associated with cognitive impairment and decline.

    Diagnosis Of Hearing Loss

    The doctor will carry out various tests to ascertain the extent of your condition [10] . The diagnostic tests for hearing loss are as follows:

    • Physical examination where the doctor will look in your ear for possible causes, such as earwax or inflammation from an infection
    • Tuning fork tests
    • General screening tests, such as whispering tests

    Audiometer tests

  • App-based hearing tests
  • Treatment For Hearing Loss

    The medical care provided for hearing loss depends on the cause and severity of your condition [11] .

    • Removing wax blockage
    • Surgery
    • Hearing aids
    • Cochlear implants


    Although it develops gradually, hearing loss can be prevented to an extent by considering the following measures [12] .

    • Protect your ears from loud noises by limiting the duration and intensity of your exposure to noise
    • Use earplugs
    • Consider regular hearing tests
    • Avoid recreational risks such as hunting, using power tools, listening to high volume for a long period

    FAQs on Hearing Loss

    Q. What is the difference between hearing loss and deafness?

    A. Hearing loss is the reduced ability to hear sounds in the same way as other people. Whereas deafness is when a person cannot understand speech through hearing, even when sound is amplified.

    Q. At what age is hearing loss normal?

    A. It is one of the most common conditions affecting older and elderly adults. And it is normal to develop hearing loss after 65.

    Q. Is hearing loss a disability?

    A. While profound hearing loss or deafness is termed as a disability, moderate or mild hearing loss is not.

    Q. Does hearing loss keep getting worse?

    A. While hearing loss is typically progressive and can get worse over time, most cases will hit a stop where hearing thresholds will remain mostly steady.

    View Article References
    1. [1] Cole, E. B., & Flexer, C. (2019). Children with hearing loss: Developing listening and talking, birth to six. Plural Publishing.
    2. [2] Liberman, M. C., & Kujawa, S. G. (2017). Cochlear synaptopathy in acquired sensorineural hearing loss: manifestations and mechanisms. Hearing Research, 349, 138-147.
    3. [3] Liberman, M. C., Epstein, M. J., Cleveland, S. S., Wang, H., & Maison, S. F. (2016). Toward a differential diagnosis of hidden hearing loss in humans. PloS one, 11(9), e0162726.
    4. [4] Dawes, P., Emsley, R., Cruickshanks, K. J., Moore, D. R., Fortnum, H., Edmondson-Jones, M., ... & Munro, K. J. (2015). Hearing loss and cognition: the role of hearing AIDS, social isolation and depression. PloS one, 10(3), e0119616.
    5. [5] Kurabi, A., Keithley, E. M., Housley, G. D., Ryan, A. F., & Wong, A. C. Y. (2017). Cellular mechanisms of noise-induced hearing loss. Hearing research, 349, 129-137.
    6. [6] Sha, S. H., & Schacht, J. (2017). Emerging therapeutic interventions against noise-induced hearing loss. Expert opinion on investigational drugs, 26(1), 85-96.
    7. [7] Carroll, Y. I., Eichwald, J., Scinicariello, F., Hoffman, H. J., Deitchman, S., Radke, M. S., ... & Breysse, P. (2017). Vital signs: noise-induced hearing loss among adults—United States 2011–2012. MMWR. Morbidity and mortality weekly report, 66(5), 139.
    8. [8] Yuan, H., Wang, X., Hill, K., Chen, J., Lemasters, J., Yang, S. M., & Sha, S. H. (2015). Autophagy attenuates noise-induced hearing loss by reducing oxidative stress. Antioxidants & redox signaling, 22(15), 1308-1324.
    9. [9] Kastak, D., Southall, B. L., Schusterman, R. J., & Kastak, C. R. (2005). Underwater temporary threshold shift in pinnipeds: Effects of noise level and duration. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 118(5), 3154-3163.
    10. [10] Rabinowitz, P. M. (2000). Noise-induced hearing loss. American family physician, 61(9), 2759-2760.
    11. [11] Nachtigall, P. E., Supin, A. Y., Pawloski, J., & Au, W. W. (2004). Temporary threshold shifts after noise exposure in the bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) measured using evoked auditory potentials. Marine Mammal Science, 20(4), 673-687.
    12. [12] Irle, H., Hesse, J. M., & Strasser, H. (1998). Physiological cost of energy-equivalent noise exposures with a rating level of 85 dB (A):: Hearing threshold shifts associated with energetically negligible continuous and impulse noise. International journal of industrial ergonomics, 21(6), 451-463.
    Arya KrishnanGeneral Medicine
    Arya Krishnan
    Read more about: hearing loss causes symptoms
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